A detailed three-year funding and growth strategy has been put in place to support a Stockport-based West African food company, as they take their products into the retail market.
Funding from the Manchester Growth Hub has allowed Africa Al’s Handmade African Sauces to scale up production, resulting in a massive 600 per cent increase in production.
Launched in 2017 by ex-police detective sergeant Alex Anyakwo, Africa Al’s Handmade African Sauces has proved a major hit at artisan markets and food fairs throughout the North West and West Midlands.
The popularity of Alex’s sauces have seen him turn a passion for cooking into a business. Africa Al’s has been working with Lightbulb Solutions, a specialist consultancy with expertise in the food market.
This has led to a presence in butchers, delis and farm shops. The business wants to expand this base for the next year and then will begin to target product listings in UK supermarkets.
Emma Wilson, Marketing Director at Cheadle Hulme based Lightbulb Solutions, said support for Africa Al’s Handmade African Sauces has involved helping to put funding and production facilities in place. “This has involved business planning and cashflow advice and advise on new product developments. A three-year- plan is in place to develop the business going forward, overdraft facilities are in place with a bank and funding has been arranged through the Manchester Growth Hub.
Emma added: “Africa Al’s have had a phenomenal journey so far and the growth, on the back of Alex’s fantastic cuisine, has been incredible. We are now looking forward to presenting to a wider audience.”
Martin Hyman a Manufacturing Advisor at Manchester Growth Hub has worked with Alex and Emma. He said: “The Manufacturing Grant provides the extra funding needed to access expert support needed to help Manchester based SME’s (Small, Medium Enterprises) to develop and grow, and in particular to advance the business into production so they can scale up to be future employers in the region. The grant refunds 30 per cent of all spend up to £5,000.”
Alex, aged 53, came to Manchester from his native Nigeria at the age of 19 and has lived in Bramhall, Cheshire, for many years.
A passion to explore the cuisine of his native Nigeria led Alex to start experimenting in his home kitchen, cooking authentic West African food for friends and family. When a farm shop owner encouraged Alex to take his cookery skills further, he rose to the challenge and soon began to cook extra batches of sauce for food fairs and markets.
“We soon built up a following and demand has grown,” said Alex, “we regularly take stalls at farm and food markets and often sell out.”
Initial success with two cooking pastes encouraged Alex to increase the range and they now offer seven products. Alex’s recipes are based on the dishes he remembers from childhood, he said: “I was born in Lagos and I recall sitting down on Sundays to a traditional West African stew – the aromas and tastes around the dining room table have stayed with me all my life. Food figured large in our culture, using fresh ingredients such as onions, scallions, ginger, garlic and peppers, with the heat added by using Scotch Bonnet peppers.
The Africa Al range enjoys considerable success within the vegetarian and vegan community as they are all preservative and additive free.
Alex added: “We have a mission statement to be the first to introduce African cooking to the wider public by providing a range of authentic, accessible and easy to prepare sauces, breads and accompaniments that are reflective of the varied and delicious cuisine of this region of the world.”
The expansion plans has seen Africa Al move production from his Bramhall home kitchen to a carefully selected intermediate production site. All products are still made by Alex but support from a four-strong team of cooks means the business has been able to scale-up output by a massive 600 per cent, while achieving high levels of consistency across the range.
“We had been constantly struggling to meet demand and were working night and day in our home kitchen, so we are now very much enjoying being in full production as the throughput is allowing us to expand sales further,” added Alex.
Further to meeting direct customer demand, the company is now in a position to grow its supply side of the business and would welcome further engagement with retailers.