Shaping the Nigerian Coffee Industry

We interview Princess Adeyinka Tekenah, founder and CEO of Happy Coffee, one of the few indigenous coffee brands in Nigeria, established five years ago. The idea of Happy Coffee began back in 2003 when Tekenah read and was intrigued by the book “Pour Your Heart Into It”, about how former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz developed America’s coffee culture, and decided that if she ever went into business, it would be in coffee. The company did not materialise until 2015, when she was choosing between the corporate world and entrepreneurship and saw an online call for African entrepreneurs to submit ideas to grow the continent. She applied for and was accepted into the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme with an idea to research whether Nigerians would accept other forms of coffee apart from instant coffee, and to develop a brand that focused on freshly brewed locally sourced coffee.

Challenges faced were uncertainty if Nigerians would accept freshly brewed coffee, dealing with the myths around coffee in Nigeria, and the lack of frameworks, government policies or business models for her coffee business to start with, because the coffee industry in Nigeria had a disengaged value chain and no established database or associations to get basic data from.

Happy Coffee currently sources their coffee from local farmers in Taraba State, Nigeria and is presently more focused on their retail arm. Tekenah says that the security challenges and poor roads in Taraba state have prevent them from visiting their source farms as they should, but that Happy Coffee plans to adopt some coffee farms when the COVID-19 pandemic eases.

The brand aims to create a more sustainable value chain for coffee in Nigeria, to boost production, drive policy creation and implementation, and serve as a platform to create awareness around coffee as an advocate in the Nigerian coffee sector. Tekenah strongly believes in collaboration to build the Happy Coffee brand and to create sustainable impact in Nigeria and believes there is a thriving and growing ecosystem for Nigerian business and farms. When supplying coffee for events, Happy Coffee partners with other small businesses that serve other related items. Through partnerships with 38 other businesses, they also convened the first ever “Lagos Coffee Festival” in 2019, at no cost to the business.

There is still a lot of disbelief that Nigerians drink coffee. Many people mix the coffee and café culture together – Nigerians have not caught on to cafés, but the consumer expenditure for coffee and tea in 2019 surpassed that of alcohol. Instant coffee has long dominated the Nigeria coffee industry, and Happy Coffee deals with the competition by targeting consumers who want their coffee made to certain tastes.

Happy Coffee aims to be a household name in Nigeria in 5 years, and to score significant growth in the Nigerian coffee sector by influencing policy creation and see more entrepreneurs, from farmers to roasters to retailers, go into the coffee value chain.

A lot of Nigeria’s commodities were left untapped for years until the recent interest in agriculture, and coffee is not even part of the conversation in Nigerian agriculture, even though 15 states currently grow coffee and 22 states can grow it, including Lagos. Despite Nigeria being identified as a country to grow the global coffee industry, it must ratify its place in the International Coffee Organisation to become a part of the global market and give coffee farmers access to all the funding and policies made available within the industry. Furthermore, there is a need for policies that engage coffee farmers and retailers and creates proper tariff impositions on imported coffee to encourage sector growth.

On the role of the government in supporting SMEs, Tekenah notes that the government needs to understand the role and impact of SMEs to give them stronger support, not only through funding, but also by creating structures to encourage boost in productivity, business bureaus and more. For major private sector players, they can extend the use of existing facilities like factories to help small business owners meet NAFDAC requirements. Small business owners also need to be part of policy conversation so that regulations and policies made by regulatory bodies like NAFDAC and decisions made by financial institutions can be favourable to them as well.

Her advise to aspiring entrepreneurs is to “keep it simple, convenient and flexible”, to start small and grow traction, and know how to sell their idea. They must identify where they want to participate in the agricultural value chain and maintain focus on this area, because this makes it easier to start and to mitigate challenges that arise. Agriculture must also be treated as a business, and strategies and decisions must be made in this light and with the aim of making profit. Banks must also cater to youth investment to encourage the many young businesses in Africa to grow. She notes that the time is now for young entrepreneurs to contribute to the development of Africa and black lives around the globe.

The African SMEs Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs hosted weekly on Instagram by Uwem Uwemakpan. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere. 

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