Gounou is the story of a brand of 100% spread made in Africa, more exactly in Benin, which has been, year after year, among the world leaders, successfully expanding its range and its distribution network focusing on quality product.
As Benin was not yet among the world’s chocolate-producing countries, Gounou was slated to change the situation… The story began in 2017. Actually, Gounou Moutawakilou, a young Beninese, an agro-economist trained in Japan, had just resigned from his position as CO in a multinational. « It was my first professional experience – and I was about 20 years old – to manage people who were older and more experienced than me, and my vision was not in line with that of the company’s management ». Above all, the young man had other ambitions, both personally and for his country. « I couldn’t yet afford to set up my own business, so I started by creating, with a Japanese partner, an import-export company.»One year later, he was ready to go ahead and set up his own company, Small Sold.
«We wanted to offer something new, original and of good quality »
A little bit successful but also poorly-strategic adventure. « We started by working on research and development for almost a year before launching the first product that was deemed marketable. Before that, it was unsuccessful, our product was not good, and we were then frustrated and demotivated. It should be known that for our sector of activity, the spread, the producers are used to work with groundnuts. We wanted to change that and offer something new and original, based on quality almonds, which was not easy. In October 2018, however, we finally had a marketable product. That’s how Gounou started ».
Obviously, research and development are costly and the newly-established company had spent all its money. However, they were supported by the Elumelu foundation. «They liked the idea, they helped us. Though it wasn’t much, it allowed us to work on the presentation of the product.»As a result, in January 2019, Gounou first of all penetrated the local market, with a first product, a spread. « End January, we had sold 80 units and earned $ 280. It might seem small, but for us it was encouraging. It meant that 80 people had agreed to buy our product. At that time, our staff was made up of three persons, including two employees and myself, and we managed to recruit a fourth person. In the second month, the sales doubled. During the third month, we were contacted by a large distribution group, Super U, to provide our product to their Stores in Cotonou. They appreciated our product’s originality and our slogan. »
More than 1500% growth
It must be noted that as soon as it penetrated the market, the new brand became successful by focusing on originality, with a slogan, «Be different, Be proud»and labels with the names of personalities who have marked the history of the continent such as Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, etc… and by ensuring communication on social networks. Very quickly, the new brand was known and grew drastically. From the launch in January 2019 to date, we have experienced more than 1500% growth and we have moved from 3 employees to 13 permanent and 3 non-permanent ones. We have invested. Therefore, we had to review our strategy. We had reached our production capacity. Furthermore, we had been requested to set up branches to Burkina Faso, France and Canada, and to export, which we accepted; but it was a mistake because we were not ready. »
Therefore, the young entrepreneur reviewed his plans, looked for advisers, opened up his capital and returned to his fundamentals, i.e. «thinking local». « I was referring to a concept that was deployed in Japan and based on continuous quality improvement. It was about putting the customer at the center of the product improvement process, which was at the heart of our business. Even before launching a product, its market’s perception must be assessed, as the people in Africa do not like to consume locally. And if they want to consume locally, it’s often too expensive. Therefore, quality and cost should be combined. Our experience shows that it works. The African consumer, and even the European living in Africa and who is a big consumer of our products, what he/she wants first and foremost is quality, in terms of taste, health, history and mode of production. »
«It’s a global solution that takes into account environmental, quality and fair trade issues»
As such, the company works with a network of local producers on the sustainable development basis. « We have worked a lot on sustainable development issues where we are unrivalled: we only produce from sunflower oil; between plastic and glass, we focus on the glass because it can be recycled as many times as required. Our products have at least 40% less sugar than others and it’s not refined sugar, but rather raw sugar from peasant farming… It’s a global solution that takes into account environmental, quality, fair trade, and … issues. » It’s a global solution that takes into account environmental, quality, fair trade, etc. issues, while remaining competitive. « We are relatively cheaper in terms of quality advantages, compared to prices of imported products. »
But he regrets: « However, efforts are not always perceived in the same way. In Africa, the consumers are not always sensitive to these issues. Not yet, but we continue to outreach to enable the consumers to understand why these efforts are important in the short, medium and long term. Even so, we don’t regret. Our strategic reorientation was successful. The company is becoming more and more attractive. We are gaining value. We produce in Benin – 100% of the production – with raw materials exclusively from Benin. A controlled production chain is further strengthened with a network of local producers, especially as the company, by focusing on local capacities and a local production chain, has not been affected by the Covid 19 crisis.
A new range of products, an expanding distribution network
« The distribution network has been expanded from the biggest city to almost all major cities. Then, in the shot-term, we will set up branches to the sub-regional countries, including Togo and Burkina Faso, as they have similar export regulations, then in the medium term, to European countries. We have to finalize our European certifications in June while acknowledging that 80% have already been finalized. When should we go to the markets? It will depend on the urgent growth and the resources available.
In the meantime, the Gounou brand continues to grow. In addition to the spread, it offers dark chocolate with 85% cocoa, and next month two new products will be supplied, including milk chocolate and dark chocolate with almond chips, «a market first».
For more information, visit www.smallsolde.com
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