Traditional food is a delicacy for most Zimbabweans, local and abroad. When we talk of traditional food we are referring to a very broad spectrum. In principle, it refers to food that is native to Zimbabwe or you can say, Africa. It spans from livestock to crop produce, and fruits – though crop produce is the most comprehensive set. Often time traditional food is sold anyhow as can be witnessed in popular spots such as Mbare Musika. Packaging can be a game-changer for most products, and traditional food is one of them. In this article, I discuss how you can start a business packaging traditional food.
The list of traditional foods is quite long and diverse. The idea is to identify ones that are highly sought after. Then you package them so that they are more appealing; depending on your target market(s). It is also up to you whether you want to grow yourself or you want to source from producers. Bear in mind also that some of the food is naturally occurring – for instance, traditional fruits. You still can source or you can go collect yourself. The options are quite numerous and there is so much flexibility. How you will approach the business will also be informed by your specific target markets.
Examples of possible targets are food outlets (e.g. wholesalers and retailers), vendors, and individuals, amongst others. That will be for the local market basically. There is another possible target demographic which is the diaspora. There are millions of Zimbabweans in the diaspora who would gladly pay to access traditional food. Actually one of the core things that make traditional food more appealing to that demographic is proper packaging. So the possibilities are endless here.
You will need packaging machinery and packaging material. The type, size, and sophistication of what you need will be informed by your approach(es). For instance, in some cases, you will need plain packaging material that you can easily buy over the counter. You might also need basic packaging material that can be packaged around the food manually. Then in some cases, you will need branded packaging material. This would mean you can approach companies that can do that for you or you can get the means to do that yourself.
Then in other cases, you will not be able to manually package and that would necessitate the need for specialized machinery. All these possible scenarios inform on the specific requirements you will need for your business. Not forgetting that what you need will also be informed by the type of traditional food in question and how you intend to package it. If you intend to export the requirements will even be more demanding since there are standards that will need to be met.
This largely depends on the type of traditional food, the pre-packaging processes needed, the quantities, types of machinery used, and scale of production, amongst others. The bottom line though is that you will need quite a number of the hands-on deck. Whether there is substantial mechanization or not, the processes involved will tend to require some manual operations here and there. You will also need some qualified personnel such as Food Scientists. This is because packaging can involve some specialized processes that are better understood by people who studied Food Science.
A substantial amount of startup capital will be needed. Of course, you can start small and that will also depend on the type of traditional food you will be dealing with. Preparing, drying, and packaging mixed vegetables (i.e. mufushwa) might not be as sophisticated. However, packaging involving, for instance, canning of moist traditional foods might be more sophisticated. These are just examples to show you that financial capital needs are predominantly contextual. The more sophisticated, the more costly it likely will be.
The market is vast, diverse, and inexhaustible. Locally there is a huge market and the type of clients you can cater for are so varied and plenty. Then we have the diaspora market which is in essence international since there are Zimbabweans all over the world. As always, you must conduct thorough market research to ascertain the presence and nature of your target market(s).
When dealing with food there are concerns about food safety and the like. You must acquaint yourself with the regulatory requirements. Especially when aiming for the diaspora market there will be numerous regulations you must adhere to. There is actually a Food and Food Standards Act that you must take some time to go through. Some of the key areas covered are basic legislation, hygiene or sanitary procedures, food quality control or food safety, inspection, packaging and labelling, amongst others.
This is a good business venture that you can try out. Not much needed especially since some of the traditional foods you can package do not require costly and sophisticated requirements. You can always scale overtime to the big league. Most traditional foods in Zimbabwe are sold unpackaged so take advantage of that to make some money.