Disclosure: The GROW Impact Accelerator is backed by AgFunder, AFN’s parent company.
Africa’s population is expected to double from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050 – the year we are supposed to have limited global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial norms. This represents more than a billion additional mouths to feed on a continent that is already failing to provide enough protein to its population, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Veggie Victory in Nigeria is working to address the problem in a sustainable way by developing plant-based protein products – including its flagship offering VChunks – that can seamlessly replace animal meat in local dishes.
The startup recently joined AgFunder and GROW’s latest Impact Accelerator cohort, and APN caught up with co-founder and CEO Hakeem Jimo (HJ) to learn more about his plans to fill the protein gap in Africa.
APN: What problem is Veggie Victory trying to solve, and how does your technology provide a solution?
H.J.: My vegan journey started 27 years ago in Germany. I grew up in Germany and moved to West Africa 20 years ago. When I arrived in Nigeria, I realized that there were even fewer vegan and vegetarian options than in Europe at that time.
In 2013 we launched Veggie Victory as a vegan restaurant, the first of its kind in Lagos. We quickly noticed the interest of many people [but many] couldn’t make it to the restaurant. So we thought, “How can we get you this food?” Also, finding products for the restaurant was difficult.
That’s when we developed VChunks. It took a few years to get certified and find the right formula. Our other founder Bola [Adeyanju] leads product development, and she was really the mastermind behind it. She knows the local tastes down to the smallest scratch.
APN: What gives Veggie Victory its competitive edge and sets it apart from others trying to solve the same problem?
H.J.:OOne of the main characteristics is that it is a dried and dehydrated product. Think about [dried] pasta: you don’t need a fridge; which is super critical on this continent. There is therefore no need for a cold chain; most people still buy food in traditional and open markets, and supermarkets only make up about 5% of the food supply.
And, what we always say is that plant-based meat alternatives need local champions. It makes no sense to have one hamburger company from the United States supplying the whole world. Other regions have different tastes; and I am even generalizing about Africa, but we want more thick meat. We’re not that crazy about ground meat or burgers. What we want is our stews, and you have bits floating around in there, and that’s exactly how a lot of Africans eat meat. VChunks really has that texture that Africans expect from meat: it’s chewier, it’s more of a whole cut, and it’s something you really chew in one piece – not in a processed way. Texture: it really is our secret sauce.
APN: What is the biggest challenge facing Veggie Victory right now?
H.J.:Lsearch for strategic partners: distributors, resellers, country agents. Distribution in Africa is super difficult. We cannot reinvent the wheel, and every African country is so different, each with a different regulatory environment. JThis is really our main constraint. We need local people who know their market.
And it’s not just about Africa, but also about African expatriates and diaspora communities. It’s also a way to connect with people. The UK, for example, has millions of Nigerians and people of Nigerian descent, and they really want products that speak to them and their heritage. [and] at the same time, they want healthy products. Still, even there, we need more distributors and partners.
APN: What does “impact” mean to you personally and to Veggie Victory as a company? Why is environmental and social impact so important?
H.J.: I’ve been vegan for 23 years, opened the restaurant, so we’re really driven by the mission on the founder side.
We believe that Africa needs other protein sources due to the severe protein deficiency we have on the continent. We only eat half of what Asians eat and a fraction of what Americans eat; so we need to address the protein deficiency, and we believe that cannot be done with animal protein alone. It has to be a mixture. Herbal is an affordable way to do this.
But already, the livestock industry is not able to provide all the necessary protein, which leads to all kinds of human development problems. [By now] too it is common sense that livestock farming is detrimental to sustainability, including in terms of water resources – this is a big problem in Africa even more than in Europe – greenhouse gas emissions and land erosion.
We offer a solution for people to eat more plant-based alternatives, because people love meat: we are not blind to that.