Earlier this week we officially kicked off Enviu East Africa’s latest venture in Kenya, Mlo Zone. Working from a centralized kitchen, Mlo Zone will provide low income workers in Nairobi’s industrial area with access to affordable, nutritious and hygienically prepared meals. Using the lean startup methodology Mlo Zone is piloting two pop-up restaurants this week under the watchful eye of local entrepreneur Victor Ndiema and Venture Builder Denis Karema, ready to rapidly scale once validated.
As a replication of the model used by Enviu India’s venture Janta Meals, the launch of Mlo Zone’s first pilot holds particular significance here at Enviu. It is both an opportunity to scale our impact and put into practice the insights and learnings gained from running Janta. Core to our Theory of Change is that companies should be completely scalable so that once validated, their business models can be rapidly replicated to maximize impact and create system change. The pilot of Mlo Zone last week in Kenya both exemplifies and demonstrates the potential of this model.
How Mlo Zone Exemplifies Enviu’s Theory of Change
Before Enviu East Africa started Mlo Zone, Enviu India founded Janta Meals in 2013. Led by entrepreneur Jesse van Zand it provided blue collar Indian workers with access to affordable, nutritious & hygienically prepared food. The Janta model was unique in its use of a centralized kitchen from which smaller outlets could be supplied. Centralizing food preparation made it possible to achieve the scale, quality standards, hygiene and efficiency that made Janta stand out.
Janta’s outlets could match the prices of other street vendors whilst offering food with higher nutritional values and safety standards. Accessibility was solved through a micro-franchising formula which allowed Janta to sell directly to its base of pyramid customers, who buy their lunch close to work and dinner on the journey home.
Though Janta Meals saw great success initially, it did come to face challenges. Most significantly, it was undercut by competitors offering unhealthy food at a much lower price. As a result, Janta was forced to pivot its business model and is once again in the process of validation.
Despite these challenges, Janta nonetheless created significant impact. Over 4 million nutritious meals were served through 25 outlets in the space of just a few years. And this success was recognized, winning the company several awards including the Sankalp People’s Choice award. There was clearly a case for maximizing impact by scaling the model abroad – This is Enviu’s theory of change in action.
Adapting the Janta Model to Kenya
Scaling the Janta model to East Africa was an opportunity both for growth, and to expand the business’ impact with the learnings from the challenges faced in India taken onboard. Though the core of the business model has stayed constant, it was crucial to adapt Mlo Zone to the local context and for that the expertise and guidance of a local entrepreneur would be crucial.
This need led to Mlo Zone hiring Victor Ndiema as its CEO. Having set up and run an urban food services company, Victor’s guidance, optimism and hard work has been instrumental in getting Mlo Zone up and operational in cooperation with Denis, Enviu’s venture builder in Kenya; and Jesse, with his wealth of experience from running Janta meals. Yet, nothing can be assumed without validation, so now victor and Denis will lead the way in testing Mlo Zone’s proposition, the first test of which just took place last Friday in Nairobi’s industrial area.
(Picture of guys eating – caption: First pilot successful, local workers loved Mlo Zones warm services, hygenic and great tasting food “Where have you guys been all this time??”)
Built from the ground up for scalability Mlo Zone will work on testing each element of its proposition including price, quality, location, menu preferences, logistics optimization, etc.. Based on these crucial first tests the model can be adjusted or efficiently scaled as necessary. Their first test completed the next two weeks will be incredibly busy for Victor and the team as the learnings are assessed and taken onboard.
An Impact Driven Business
Whilst Enviu East Africa works to adjust Mlo Zone’s proposition and aim for profitability, impact will continue to be kept at the forefront of the model.
In providing nutritious food Mlo Zone aims to play a significant role in combating Kenya’s seemingly paradoxical nutrition problems, malnutrition and rising obesity. Basic access to food has increased in recent years, but it lacks right nutritional content, meaning many Kenyan’s still suffer from conditions such as anemia.
The food that is accessible – typically sold from small vendors outside factories and places of work – is often both unhealthy and prepared in extremely unhygienic conditions contributing to Kenya’s rising obesity rate and food borne illnesses. Through the use of a centralized kitchen with higher hygienic standards, Mlo Zone will avoid this. As an addition to this mission, Mlo Zone aims to reduce food loss through the use of cosmetically unacceptable fresh food.
Scaling Mlo Zone Through Kenya and Beyond!
This year term Mlo Zone seeks to validate its proposition and start 5-10 company owned outlets in the region, before expanding via a micro-franchising program. After this period of testing and validation, Enviu aims to grow this model across Asia and Africa with the goal of providing 2 million meals a day to the urban poor by 2023. To fuel the growth needed to meet this goal, the team is currently seeking investment to kickstart the growth of the business.