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The Making Of a Kenyan Craft Beverage Brand

For Alex Chappatte, the CEO of Kenyan Originals, the challenge of setting up a factory while expecting and looking after a newborn turned into a double blessing

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Alex Chappatte, a British-Belgian mother of two, has a passion for adventure, running and making delicious drinks. After 10 years of building brands such as Kit Kat and Stella Artois in the UK, she moved to Africa with her husband.

“We wanted to invest our skill set, knowledge base and time in a continent where we believed significant growth would be in the next 10-20 years,” says Ms Chappatte.  “We are also adventurers and wanted to live out the African adventure both in our personal and business lives. “

She first moved to West Africa, living in Ghana and eventually to Kenya five years ago and fell in love with East Africa’s biggest economy. In Kenya, she quickly learned the ropes and soon she founded Kenyan Originals, a company that makes craft tonics, fruit ciders, ice teas and craft spirits. “These are all made with real Kenyan ingredients from across the country,” she notes, “for example we source our mangoes from Makueni and our passion fruits from Meru.”

BUSINESS TODAY sat down with ALEX CHAPPATTE, the founder and CEO of Kenyan Originals (KO) to discuss her venture into manufacturing and shares her experiences and tricks in a business dominated by multinationals.

BUSINESS TODAY (BT): How did you find yourself in the manufacturing sector?

ALEX: While working for Pernod Ricard in West Africa I noticed there were no quality local beverages options.  I found the situation in Kenya. It was impossible to get a good quality, affordable drink that was not beer. Local options are low quality or illegal. The imported ones are expensive and often out of stock.

At the same time, Kenya’s drinking traditions are rich stretching from amazing use of spices, tea and fermented fruit. The availability of phenomenal raw materials, including a plethora of insanely delicious fruits, make it the perfect playground for making delicious and distinctive products.

This was the beginning of KO (Kenyan Originals), which aspires to be Africa’s leading craft beverage company.  We started in a shipping container producing  craft fruit cider using fruit from Kenya. We are now in three godowns and added craft tonics, craft ice teas and spirits to our range.

BT: What does your job entail and how do you go about it?

ALEX: I’m not a Kenyan Original, so my job is to curate the best Kenyan Original talent to build a truly authentic, Kenyan brand.  I work with head strong, opinionated ‘originators’ who have helped to shape the KO brand.  Since 2019 the Kenyan Originals brand has come to represent much more than just our drinks. We want to provide a platform for all Kenyans igniting originality in modern Kenya. The movers, the shakers, the risk takers, the Kenyan Originals.

We have been ‘KOllaborating’ with these Kenyan Originals to build the brand. Whether it’s using the matatu artist’s skills to spray paint our production site or a Kenyan designer to do our merchandise, we want to celebrate the Kenyans of tomorrow.

Kenyan Originals
Kenyan Originals portfolio: “We want to continue spreading the word about our product and our story and become Africa’s leading craft beverage company,” says Alex Chappatte.

BT: What excites you most about your job?

ALEX: My north star remains to make original Kenyan (and eventually African) craft beverages that taste fantastic. I love the hands on tinkering to get to the best product market fit. To keep experimenting, learning and refining our craft to ensure we have the best quality drinks on the continent.

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BT:  What do you think about mentors?

ALEX: I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by smart advisors. It’s amazing how generous people in Kenya are with their time and information. I’m also fortunate to have had a very dedicated (and patient) mentor in my husband (Sam Chappatte, former Jumia Kenya CEO) who has had the burden of many late night brainstorm discussions. He has been an absolute rock! There are so many awesome kick-ass Kenyan female leaders. I would love to connect more with this world and learn more from them.

BT:  What has been your greatest achievement so far?

ALEX: Our team is our biggest achievement. Our direct team of +60 people, 98% Kenyan team, 72% female team. It makes me happy to see our female led production team. We have trained up Kenya’s first female cidermaker. Trained by world class cidermaker from Portland, Oregon. We are always looking for ways to upskill our team members. our first promoter is now a leading sales manager, our first accountant is our head of social media.

We have built a cross category portfolio in three key categories – ciders, mixers, spirits. This hasn’t been easy but is incredibly satisfying. We are about to launch Kenya’s first craft spirit which continues our commitment to innovation ‘the Kenyan way’.

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In terms of growth, we doubled in size in 2021 with direct distribution in +1,500 outlets in Kenya. We are distributed in all five top modern trade customers in Kenya including Carrefour, Shoprite, Naivas, Quickmart and Chandarana.

We are winning awards:

  • 2019 – Awarded product of the year by African excellence awards
  • 2020 – Finalists for the world innovation beverage awards  for ‘best botanical drink’ and ‘best alcohol’
  • 2021 – Winners of best Kenyan craft beverage at the Kenyan beverage awards
  •  awarded new product of the year for ‘KO honey Cider’ at the African excellence awards
  •  Generated +$130,000 income for Kenyan farmers & creators since launch.

All while having two babies and fundraising to help support business growth. It’s been a heck of a few years with many more exciting times to come.

Alex Chappatte
Alex Chappatte says: “It makes me happy to see our female led production team. We have trained up Kenya’s first female cidermaker.”

BT: As a woman in the manufacturing sector, are there unique challenges associated with it?

ALEX: Fortunately, Kenya is a country with strong female leadership. I have not felt discouraged or looked down on for being a female in manufacturing. The biggest challenge was setting up a manufacturing business while being pregnant and looking after a newborn. I would bring my eldest to the site in Limuru when she was born and my youngest spent his first six months at our site in Baba Dogo. I would breastfeed amongst the pallets of bottles in our godown for some privacy. Any mother will know how tricky it is to balance life during those first 3-6 months.

BT:  Before one decides to venture in such a career, what factors should they consider?

  1. Resilience – Do you have it? Ideas are the starting block. Resilience will land the idea… eventually.
  2. Passion – this will fuel your resilience and drive
  3. Belief – needs to be unwavering

BT:  What challenges are associated with your job?

ALEX: This market is full of opportunity. What makes the entrepreneurs who stand out are not those who spot the opportunity but those who have the resilience to follow through and set up an operation in Kenya. It’s not easy, especially if you are setting up a product that is new in the market as there is lots of awareness, like educating the regulatory bodies on our craft set up, how it works and figuring out how to make your product.

 BT: What are your future goals?

ALEX: We want to continue spreading the word about our product and our story and become Africa’s leading craft beverage company. True to the world of craft, we will not stop innovating. So watch this space.

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KALU MENGO
KALU MENGOhttp://www.businesstoday.co.ke
Kalu Mengo is a Senior Reporter With Business Today. Email: [email protected]
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