After four years of intensive product testing, market research and distribution of what is now Zambia’s foremost renowned eeZee Noodles, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Java Foods Monica Musonda knew she had stumbled upon a winning product that catered both to the need for convenient and nutritious foods at an affordable price point.
For Ms Musonda, the entrepreneur in her arose from a unique confluence of factors: Zambia’s fertile land was yielding abundant crops of maize, soybeans and wheat, yet there was a scarcity of local food products using these resources available to the Zambian consumer. She saw an opportunity to create something novel; a locally manufactured product that would resonate with the evolving tastes and preferences of the country’s urban young population.
She remarked: “People’s consumption patterns are changing, which means that they are choosing to use their incomes to buy products which would meet their needs and wants. What we noticed when starting out was that people are now buying different foods from what they used to buy before.”
In 2012, armed with determination, Ms Musonda set out to introduce eeZee Noodles, a product which would later establish Java Foods as the sole manufacturer of fortified noodles in Zambia.
Promoting inclusive production
Throughout its existence, Java Foods has embraced an all-around operations model, catering to various types of businesses including chain stores, wholesalers and small-scale retailers.
With over 1,000 businesses currently sourcing their products for sale to the general public, the company strives not only to provide affordable meals but to contribute to the development of agricultural diversity in Zambia, particularly in wheat production.
By collaborating with commercial farmers and offering them a local market, Java Foods has become an integral part of the local value chain.
“Wheat, the key ingredient in our noodles, is grown exceptionally well in Zambia,” Ms Musonda noted. “We engage with farmers to ensure that the volume and consistency of quality we require for our products meet the standard. By utilising this versatile crop, we aim to inspire other local manufacturers to explore its immense potential.”
Darkest before dawn
As a company run by a female entrepreneur in the manufacturing space, Java Foods faced scepticism and had to overcome several preconceived notions, Ms Musonda revealed. Building trust among suppliers and customers alike was an uphill battle that required unwavering dedication and a commitment to consistency.
“There were times when people doubted our ability to consistently deliver quality products,” she explained. “But we persevered, focusing on building a skilled workforce and establishing technical partnerships to enhance our capabilities.”
Access to finance was another hurdle that threatened to hinder Java Foods’ growth. Banks were reluctant to take risks on a start-up, demanding stringent requirements that were unattainable at that stage in the business. Ms Musonda’s determination led her to put her personal assets on the line, using her own house as collateral to secure the necessary overdrafts.
“It was a risky move, but we believed in our vision,” she explained. “We knew that in order to grow, we needed innovative financing solutions. That’s when the Impact Finance Network entered the picture.”
Impact Finance Network, an initiative programme introduced by Anglo American, provided Java Foods with the guidance, resources and expertise necessary to navigate the complexities of scaling a business.
Ms Musonda explained: “We worked closely with a team of consultants through the Network, and this partnership has proved instrumental in constructing a robust financial model and a compelling business case projection ready to be presented to investors.”
“As a result of our involvement in the initiative, Java Foods has gained increased recognition, which has breathed new life into our brand, as investors now view us as a business brimming with growth potential. Moreover, this collaboration has opened avenues for us to explore expanding our product range, gain a deeper understanding of our market expansion possibilities, and finesse the inner workings of our business operations.”
The transformative partnership with the Network has also helped Java Foods set its sights on regional expansion and exports, with Ms Musonda stating: “We are projecting to be in four countries within the next three years, with exports contributing to 30 percent of our revenue.”
The inclusion of Zambian businesses, among them Java Foods, as beneficiaries of Anglo American’s Impact Finance Network serves as a testament to the potential for growth through local companies. Ms Musonda views this as an opportunity to inspire and invigorate the local manufacturing sector, calling upon others to embrace the possibilities that lie within their reach.
As the fortified noodles manufacturer continues its journey, Ms Musonda remains resolute in her commitment to quality, affordability and local empowerment. With each bowl of eeZee Noodles, she envisions a brighter future, one where Zambian innovation and determination propel the nation towards prosperity.