Ehime Eigbe-Akindele is the founder & CEO of Sweetkiwi. She is a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women scholar, a Cherie Blair Foundation mentee, a Wimbiz associate and was a finalist at the 2017 British Council Alumni Awards. She was named one of Nigeria’s most inspiring women in 2016 and her company, Sweetkiwi, has been named one of the 100 most innovative businesses in Nigeria. On this occasion, she sat down with Lehle Balde to talk about her entrepreneurship journey so far and recent international expansion.
What inspired the Sweetkiwi yogurt franchise?
Sweetkiwi was born from my love for desserts and finding a balance with trying to eat healthier. Before I started, a lot of frozen yogurt places I had tried weren’t as healthy as they claimed to be. I began working to create a recipe that was clean, healthy and made of real yogurt. I began plans to start my own brand. We launched in 2011 and I haven’t looked back ever since.
How did you come about the name ‘Sweetkiwi’?
‘Sweetkiwi’ is an urban word for an unforgettable experience. ‘Kiwi’ is typically sour and a sweet one is unforgettable. My first experience with frozen yogurt was unforgettable. I knew that was the same experience I wanted to deliver to customers so that’s how the name came about.
How many outlets does Sweetkiwi currently have and where are they located?
We currently have two retail outlets, one on Admiralty Way and the other at Palms Mall. We also launched in retail supermarkets in the DC area and we are currently in eight stores.
Can you share some experiences and challenges you’ve faced while growing and expanding your brand in Nigeria?
Running a business in Nigeria is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do in my life. Lack of basic infrastructure has been a major challenge. We spend so much on power generation which is an unrealistic expense for a business. The last recession has taken its toll on the business and our original expansion plan. Multiple taxation from the different levels of government and lack of support for growing Nigerian businesses are also major challenges. Poor educational system also unfortunately affects the quality and mentality of staff available to us, so human resources are a tough aspect for us as well.
Sweetkiwi is known for using natural products. Why was this important to you? What are your top three flavours?
I am very passionate about clean, natural food. This is why at the core of Sweetkiwi was the intention to do more than just make profits. I wanted to create a brand that made real frozen yogurt with real healthy benefits. Nigeria has come far along and many people are very label conscious and pay attention to what they put in their bodies. This was the revolution we hoped to create, and we are proud to be one of the companies that started the healthy food movement. There are so many diseases that are caused by the food people eat so I wanted to know that the product we were selling was food that helped fight diseases. My top three flavors are Chocolate Hazelnut, Sweetkiwi Signature, Greek Yoghurt.
There is a growing number of frozen yogurt companies in the Nigerian market. How does Sweetkiwi differentiate itself from the rest?
Sweetkiwi has its own unique recipe which is made from a real yogurt base, genuinely low in calories and uses clean, natural ingredients. Real ingredients are our difference.
You recently expanded and scaled Sweet Kiwi outside Nigeria to shelves in US stores. What was that process like for you?
The expansion was quite exciting for me because it was a validation of seven years of hard work I had put into the business. To have top US retail brands and top people in the food industry in the US try our products and believe we have something special really gave us so much confidence. We were able to get our products in retail supermarkets within six months and the response we have got back from the US market has been phenomenal. I have been learning so much about the food business, retail distribution and how to tell a compelling story about Sweetkiwi.
As a woman in business, how do you balance your personal responsibilities with your business?
I think it’s hard to have a complete balance. I do my best and try not to put too much pressure on myself. I think when you focus on something, another thing suffers. I just try to surround myself with people who help support me and help me pick up on the things I let slip or don’t balance properly. I believe it takes a whole village to have that balance.
What are the biggest business lessons you have learned since starting out?
I have learnt to take on the attributes of water–that is being persistent and never giving up. I have learnt to read the fine print, between the lines, above and below the lines. I have also learnt to go with the flow. Things never go as you plan them but sometimes when you let God have his place, they work out better.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs looking to build and run a lasting business?
I would advise thinking through your ideas and making sure it is a passion and whatever you are doing adds value not just to you but to your community. When you have done this, put in the work. Building a business isn’t easy. Be clear about what you know and what you don’t, then surround yourself with those who do. Business is a team sport.