Tamalli: reinventing informal food systems in urban Sub-Saharan Africa to deliver the world’s most delicious solution to malnutrition
Tamalli delivers everything street vendors need to serve safer & better food, starting with dishes based on ancient Mayan nutrition tech.
A street scene from Huruma, one of our test neighborhoods in Nairobi representative of how Africa's booming cities are developing.
Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)
Tamalli is the subcontinent's first formal food supply company focused on solving systemic challenges in the informal food system that prevent urban families from achieving dietary quality on a limited budget. We are building a distribution platform to support street vendors as the biggest leverage point in solving urban malnutrition, by supplying them with delicious prepared foods and the tools needed to serve them hygienically. Vendors invest in a Supply Kit with branded service equipment, and purchase a daily delivery of fresh dishes at wholesale prices. The initial product line we are building the supply chain around in Kenya is a range of Afro-Latin fusion dishes that tackle the country's urgent problem with aflatoxin exposure, which is causally linked to stunted growth in children. Dietary reliance on maize is the main culprit in this exposure, and persists despite the existence of a simple and proven solution that has been used in Central American kitchens for thousands of years. Nixtamalization is an ancient Mayan maize steeping process that optimizes maize's nutrition profile, including up to a 95% reduction in aflatoxin. These process benefits are why WHO has named it as the only consumer solution to aflatoxin-related stunting with "sufficient evidence to implement." As a cooking technique, nixtamalization is most naturally deployed through fresh food -- which makes it an ideal technology for anchoring a diet-based solution to child stunting. We believe the primary reason it has not previously been introduced on the subcontinent is the significant cultural exchange required to introduce it the same way great culinary ideas have always crossed borders -- by passionate chefs putting better food on the table. Our model seeks to make this exchange at scale by putting premium and affordable nixtamal-based dishes on every corner, and doing so provides a platform-level opportunity to solve other challenges in the informal food supply such as poor hygiene.
Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)
Our primary beneficiaries are urban families in major cities across the subcontinent, where the informal food system has failed to keep pace with the needs of neighborhoods booming with rural migrants. We have a particular focus on ensuring our solution impacts women of reproductive age, children 0-5 years of age, and the family's prime income earner. The solution will initially be deployed in Nairobi, Kenya where beneficiaries face a range of both regional and local challenges in accessing a quality diet that make it a strong design context. Our model is also built to ensure strong earning potential for participating vendors by tightly controlling costs, and to maximize profit retained by communities by decentralizing production facilities to the neighborhood level. Smallholder farmers will secure stronger access to market through our significant purchasing power, and corporate profits will be invested into solving big challenges at the nexus of food and sustainable agriculture.
Naomi, a vendor in Huruma who sold a trial recipe with us during field research, offers free samples of pozole to eager taste testers.
We have now designed a first cart prototype that our vendors will use to deliver a premium experience and ensure they can safely sell high volumes to earn strong profits.
How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)
This approach is unique because the nutrition aid industry in Sub-Saharan Africa traditionally takes the view that nutrition interventions are undesirable and unsustainable, and therefore must be minimized (e.g. through fortifying staples or distributing nutrient powders through government health workers). We take the opposite view by starting with a technology that is undesirable to the aid community because it must be consumed regularly to be effective, and looking at how it's key strengths provide an opportunity to build key infrastructure and a bridge toward a future of abundance. Because nixtamalization actually makes maize more delicious, we have a unique opportunity to use it as a catalyst to provoke the informal food system to better serve people of all income levels. This evolution doesn't need to be limited to nixtamalized maize or any single technique. Our overall vision is to build a movement of people taking greater control over creating the future they want to eat.
Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)
Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.
Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)
Tamalli (www.tamalli.co) was incubated as an internal project of IF Ventures, a Nairobi-based venture studio that helps global corporations build disruptive solutions to their biggest existential threats in frontier markets. Tamalli was identified as an opportunity to overcome the limitations of reaching BoP consumers with high quality packaged foods, and avoid the destructive future of increased distribution of low quality processed foods.
An outline of the standard design process IF uses in corporate venture building, which we are following for Tamalli with some modification due to it being an internal project without a client.
Organization Filing Status
Yes, we are a registered company.
In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.
Our core inspiration was seeing a huge opportunity for doing nutrition different, and feeling our team is in unique position to execute. One co-founder previously launched a failed nutrition concept in Kenya with several partners (Unilever, GAIN, & IDEOorg), and is eager to overcome the barriers to success experienced. The other co-founder is a Mexican biologist who studies the dietary evolution of early hominids, and has unique perspective on nixtamal's role in Mexico's cultural development.
Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).
We bridge planet and prosperity by building distribution for one of the world's most proven and resource-efficient nutrition technologies. Nixtamalization is tragically underutilized in a time when climate change and price volatility increasingly threaten food security for low-income communities, in a region that will be home to 1-in-5 of the world's women of reproductive age by 2030. Distributing it at scale will position us as a major influencer in the global effort to create sustainable food systems. Despite informal food being the subcontinent's largest consumer market at over USD $120 billion annually, few companies are using this buying power to help Africans create a modern and sustainable informal food system that delivers prosperity for all. By placing sustainable food systems for all at the core of our mission, we can be a powerful force for good in the struggle African nations face to enhance food security and diet quality without surrendering their fate to big agriculture.
Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)
Broadly, we follow a human-centered design process that makes a new inclusive venture the central catalyst in building a thriving multi-sector ecosystem around our vision for change. In Idea Phase, we primarily engaged hundreds of informal food value-chain actors in 3 target neighborhoods of Nairobi, broadly representative of neighborhood-level informal food systems across the subcontinent. This field research included consumer ethnography, value chain mapping, and expert interviews. Getting a pulse on how people relate to food and how the current food system works for them was at the heart of our solution design process. Now that we have a working hypothesis for a business model that can scale, we will validate it through iterative piloting in these communities, which means temporarily limiting ecosystem engagement. Once the concept is further validated, we can engage other multi-sector actors in the myriad of roles they can play in helping to build a thriving ecosystem.
Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)
The community is hungry for more options for achieving quality diets with limited resources, and has a huge contingent of unemployed people willing to hustle in executing a known opportunity -- but low exposure to the knowledge required to lead a bold vision for this project. In other words, the community is eager for change and will naturally develop an army of grassroots supporters as we develop the business model into a set of roles appropriate for a range of community actors to get involved.
We are initially focused on urban Kenya, but intend to replicate across urban Sub-Saharan Africa.
How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)
We are now implementing a value proposition pilot in Nairobi (rapid 3 vendor demand test), and will use GHR funding to implement a full business model pilot -- which will be conducted over 15 months (3 months setup and up to 12 months implementation with quarterly iteration cycles). The business pilot aims to blueprint a model for location-level breakeven for our Unit of Replication (UoR), which is a neighborhood-level Milling Kitchen serving up to 100 vendors with up to 20,000 dishes per day.
Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)