BIDCORO Africa – Refreshing Prospects
BIDCORO Africa is on a mission to expand the range of its great-tasting fruit products for consumers in East Africa and beyond.
BIDCORO Africa, the fruit drink manufacturer based in Nairobi, has taken the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to explore new business markets. The company has not only launched a new product line at times when most companies are reducing their costs and business activities but has also intensified efforts to win new export markets.
The business was established only three years ago as a partnership of two major companies, both leading players in their respective markets: BIDCO Africa – the largest and fastest-growing manufacturer of consumer products in East Africa, with its far-reaching sales and distribution network – and Danish CO-RO, a company with a century-long tradition, and one of the world’s leading providers of fruit-based soft drinks, selling innovative products to more than 80 countries.
The resulting company, BIDCORO Africa Ltd, was set up to develop and deliver products specifically to suit the needs of the East African consumer through the internationally recognised brand names of Suntop and Sunquick.
“We have brought together the best of two worlds – a leading European player focused on juice concentrates covering several continents, and a strong company with a footprint in many East African countries,” says CEO Mads Burmester.
The company established its Nairobi factory in 2017 with Suntop, the tasty and trusted fruit drink as the core product, and over the three years of its existence has increased staff numbers ten-fold to its current 300. Over 70% of revenues are generated in export markets including Qatar, Mauritius, Kuwait as well as Denmark, with West African countries slowly but steadily joining the list.
New production line
The business was developing rapidly until 2020 when the new virus changed the game, says Mr Burmester. “Kenya has been significantly affected by Covid-19 with dire consequences for the company. Suntop, with its smooth texture, a high percentage in vitamin C, and the absence of preservatives, artificial colourings and artificial sweeteners is an ideal children’s drink, and the handy 125- and 250-ml packaging made it the preferred refreshment at schools. As the schools closed, we lost our key sales channel.”
In an unprecedented situation, BIDCORO demonstrated its resilience by swiftly changing its market focus. “On the one hand, we have boosted our export activities, and on the other speeded up the commissioning of a new line for a different type of drink, Sunquick juice concentrate, targeting adult home consumers, a drink in fact precisely matching the new situation when people were encouraged to stay at home.”
As a result of the Covid-19 travel restrictions, the new line worth US$2.5 million in investment was completed under strict safety measures using only the local workforce, an achievement the company is duly proud of.
“The credit goes to our highly skilled and dedicated local staff, who made the impossible possible by showing dedication, a high level of professional skills and the willingness to go the extra mile,” says Mr Burmester, reflecting that commissioning a new line in the middle of a coronavirus crisis, when most businesses are reducing their costs, is remarkable, and a mark of confidence in the local market and its future development.
“We have received great support from all our international suppliers as well as the CoRo technical team in Denmark,” he adds. “Under normal circumstances, we would have flown a lot of experts in to supervise the installation and commissioning but all that has been managed by means of webinars and online interactions. Perhaps Covid-19 has accelerated the change of the business environment and showed us how things will be done in the future.”
Inauguration of the new line in July was a special milestone for the BIDCORO Africa team, celebrated with an official opening ceremony attended by Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development, the Hon. Betty C. Maina and the Danish Ambassador to Kenya, Mette Knudsen.
Ingredients of success
With the new addition, BIDCORO’s 12,000 m2 facility houses three production lines and is ready for another potential extension, as the company looks into expanding into other categories and boosting exports.
Mr Burmester affirms that a focus on stable, reliable supplies of consistent quality is a must to succeed as an exporter. “The challenge of working with major brands like ours is that tradition and market expectations are a commitment. Stable high quality is crucial, and can never be compromised. We want to work closely with potential suppliers here in Kenya and East Africa to secure the three key ingredients of a growing business – stable supply, high quality and competitive pricing.”
He adds a fourth ingredient that is gaining increasing importance in global markets – sustainability. In line with the efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste around the world, BIDCORO is going to change some of its plastic straws to paper ones as the first step towards a reduced environmental footprint.
“We are working towards finding alternatives that we can switch to while striving to make a positive change but the fact remains that a plastic bottle is still one of the best containers for food and drink. This is an area where we are working closely with the packaging industry to find innovative solutions.”
Despite the Covid-19 setback, the business is set to grow, he affirms. “2020 has been a difficult year but our overall financial performance has not been affected dramatically, and we are set to hit our targets.”
“The lesson that we learned from the pandemic – and it has not been the last one – is that flexibility is key. The business will need to be flexible to stay competitive. Another outcome that will last is the focus on staff safety, always and under all circumstances. I believe we have handled the situation very well and are proud to say that we have not laid off a single person during the crisis.”
Mr Burmester, a Danish national with decades of experience in working with businesses in Asia and Africa, has no doubt about BIDCORO’s further progress. The company plans to launch another product in December to please the tastes of locals – Suntop ice lollies, made with real fruit juice with no preservatives, no artificial flavours and no artificial sweeteners. They can be transported unfrozen and stored at room temperature, which means more cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly logistics.
“The product is already big in Europe and Asia and I’m sure it will be a success here also,” he says, adding that after a period of consolidation next year, BIDCORO Africa is set to embark on further business expansion.