Baking family values in every loaf
Kenblest have a proud heritage and history as a family run business, baking bread of the highest quality in Kenya
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Callum Philp
Kenblest's roots can be traced back to 1937, with the incorporation of Shah Kanji Ladha and Company in Thika, Kenya, by Kanji Ladha Shah. The shop located in the centre of Thika town, traded in textiles and general goods. This humble beginning was to pave the way for diversification throughout the years until Mayur Mohanlal Shah joined in 1981, having graduated as a pharmacist from John Moore University and completed a Diploma in Baking in the United Kingdom.
Given the company's strong understanding and experience of the Kenyan market, the directors identified a large gap in the industry for good quality bread; and so plans were drawn up to expand into the bakery industry, resulting in the incorporation of Kenblest limited. In August 1982, the Kenblest bakery was commissioned with the prime objective to manufacture and deliver good quality and affordable bread to Kenyan consumers.
Since 1982, the company focused heavily on combining international business practices into the workings of Kenblest bakery. Through dedication and hard work, coupled with strong business acumen, Kenblest flourished and within four years the bakery expanded its capacity from 80,000 to 230,000 loaves per day. Expansion in 2006 increased daily production capacity to 330,000 loaves per day, making Kenblest the single largest bread producer under one roof in Kenya.
Jinit Shah, CEO of Kenblest, is extremely proud of how the company has continued to grow each year and shows no signs of stopping: "We have always been strong contenders in the market here, but now we find ourselves in an even better position. We are in the process of constructing two new 150-tonne wheat and maize mills in Thika, which will raise our milling capacity greatly. We will always strive to continue our growth, as long as it is financially prudent to do so."
The food industry in the country is one of the largest for revenue and, within that, the bakery industry is widely considered to be the biggest. Most of the working population who commute into the cities each day, buy bread for their lunch from kiosks outside office buildings. "Eating habits have changed dramatically over the last few years in Kenya. More and more people are turning to bread and bread products for their lunchtime meal. It is easy to purchase and is considered a fast food by many, while remaining filling and cheap. It has been a big source of our sales revenue rising," remarks Shah, pleased with this change in the market.
One of the biggest factors that have affected Kenblest in the market has been the growing number of amateur bakeries springing up in rural areas and saturating the industry. these bakeries are becoming more prominent due to the lesser overheads involved in producing the bread, which in turn means a cheaper price for the consumer. "Rural bakeries have become a challenge for us in recent years. With rural wages far lower than those in the cities, customers cannot afford to buy our bread, so they turn to 'amateur bakeries' to supply them with the product. The concern is that although the quantity being produced is far lower than our output, the quality of the product is also greatly reduced and in many cases, the hygiene process employed in modern baking is not used in these locations. This can lead to serious health implications, which can quickly become widespread," explains Shah.
Supplying the Market
Kenblest have built up an impressive workforce and supply chain including a logistics set up that transports the goods from one end of Kenya to the other. This year, the company purchased 100 new trucks, ranging from 1 tonne haulers to 7 tonne movers. The trucks being used are replaced every four years to ensure that the level of supply never drops due to trucks being in for repair or unusable. "We have recently upgraded our fleet of trucks by purchasing 100 new ones from Tata Africa Holdings and these will keep our products rolling out to the various cities in Kenya," Shah comments.
First and foremost, Kenblest are very keen to press the point that they are a company who pride themselves on working with and hiring local people. With a workforce of over 700 and strong relationships with local vendors and companies, Kenblest are focused on giving back to the Kenyan economy and populous where possible. "We have worked closely with local communities and companies to ensure that the relationships we have built up over the years remain as strong today as they did 30 years ago. Our supplies are always locally sourced and our partners are as well. It is so important for us to maintain and nurture our business connections, so in times both good and bad, they will stick with us, and we will stay with them," Shah emphasises.
Keeping the Mills turning
Bread manufacturing has been in existence for centuries and machines used in the manufacturing of bread have evolved over the last 30 years. However, this evolution comes at a price. The newer, more advanced milling machinery is very expensive and as Shah explains, is not a realistic option for most companies: "Some of our competitors are using machinery that is 30 or 40 years old and that breaks down on a regular basis. Our machines are much newer and can handle greater volumes, which has enabled us to push on with our production. that said, there is now an emphasis on greener, more economical manufacturing and we have seen former competitors unable to adjust their processes and machinery to fit this green regime; their revenue has suffered greatly." Kenblest have a proud heritage and history as a family-run business. Shah is confident that the reason they have been so successful is down to offering customers a personal touch and constantly working with local workers and companies, who have remained loyal throughout the years: "I believe that as the third generation of the Kenblest family have joined the group, offering our customers a high quality product that is fairly priced will always be a winning strategy."