Since founding FoodPro in 2010, the FoodPro team has extensively researched the cashew processing value chain, travelled to Vietnam, Benin, Gambia and Kenya to engage with processors and equipment manufacturers, and opened dialogs with potential kernel purchasers in Europe. FoodPro Director and co-founder Ayo Olajiga adds, “Perhaps the most important step in the journey was joining the African Cashew Alliance and attending the conference in Benin in 2012. This afforded us the opportunity to engage with global players in a single forum as well as observe innovation in processing equipment. The relationships formed at the ACA conference continue to yield fruit till today.”

Foodpro began production late 2012, and was assisted in its development by fellow ACA member Jungle Nuts, an ACA Seal-certified cashew processor in Kenya. Mr. Olajiga describes the advice and support provided by Jungle Nuts as “instrumental” in helping FoodPro refine its business model and continuously improve the quality of its output.

Foodpro’s main customer base is currently the UK market, although domestic sales are also growing in response to an increasing demand for processed cashews within Nigeria. The company is expanding quickly – while at the beginning of 2014 FoodPro employed around 100 staff, it begins the New Year with a workforce of 287 people, 88% of whom are women.

“One of the key drivers for the creation of Foodpro was to create a platform for sustainable employment creation,” says Mr. Olajiga. “The dedication and focus we observe walking the factory floor is truly amazing, and inspires us to grow the company.”

With the long term plan of becoming a truly globally competitive company, the next step for FoodPro was to cement its reputation as a processor of top quality nuts by attaining the ACA Seal, a step which Mr. Olajiga describes as requiring “significant investment in people, process and equipment.”

Assisted by ACA Seal Coordinator Peter Nyarko, FoodPro implemented further changes in all areas of the factory, ranging from establishing an on-site laundry and introducing colour coded overalls, to redesigning internal reporting procedures. New talent was recruited in the area of quality assurance, section supervisors were empowered to take ownership of various stages of output, and an overall culture of inter-departmental collaboration and cooperation was fostered. Equipment was upgraded, and automation increased in a number of sections, while regular training was introduced for all levels of staff.

“The processing of kernel is like a relay,” observes Mr. Olajiga. “There are no prizes for doing well in one section - the entire process must be seamless for a quality product to be delivered.”

Since entering the Seal program, FoodPro has increased its production from 0.6 tonnes per day to 4 tonnes per day, and expects a further threefold increase in output in the coming year. Surveys have revealed increases in both customer satisfaction and employee morale, sale prices have risen, and new potential customers have approached the firm with purchase enquiries. Ongoing compliance with Seal standards is ensured by daily quality reporting, both by section supervisors and by the firm’s new Quality Assurance Manager. The firm plans to also introduce random monthly Seal audits in 2015 to further strengthen guarantees of quality. 

As will be familiar to many cashew processors across Africa, a major challenge facing FoodPro is the issue of poor quality kernels being harvested at farm level. “A good process cannot make a bad quality cashew good,” says Mr. Olajiga. To address this challenge, FoodPro has partnered with ACA and Nigerian government agencies to work directly with farmers, providing training in pre- and post-harvest cashew handling, thereby ensuring a rise in both harvest quality and farmer income, and also contributing significantly to the long-term sustainability of the Nigerian cashew industry as a whole.

Another challenge facing the company is the lack of skilled and experienced workers in the cashew processing sector. Mr. Olajiga notes that assistance from both ACA and Kenya’s Jungle Nuts have helped FoodPro provide workers with the training necessary to ensure the sustainable growth of a skilled workforce.

The future for FoodPro is very bright indeed. The company expects to double its annual production output in 2015, and has a three-year plan in place to increase output from the present level of 1,500 tons of RCN to 10,000 tons.

Following ACA Seal certification, FoodPro is now experiencing a degree of international buyer interest which vastly outstrips the company’s capacity. “We have received strong interest for product supply from North America, the Middle East and South Africa, says Mr. Olajiga, “but we do not currently have the capacity to enter into new supply agreements. So a key focus in 2015 will be on broadening the customer base through capacity expansion. However, Foodpro will focus on being a reliable supplier of quality products to customers with whom it builds long-term mutually-beneficial relationships - the focus will be on quality expansion, not just quantity expansion.”

Further medium-term plans for the company include extracting cashew shell oil to convert into renewable energy for the factory, and launching a major branded retail product on the Nigerian market. But over and above the standard business targets, FoodPro has a vision for a company which delivers benefits to all its stakeholders. Says Mr. Olajiga, “We want to have a company where our employees are proud to work, our customers receive more value than they pay for, and shareholders receive good return on their investment."