This guest blog post was written by Laura Arendacs, Meghan Coleman and Liz Gicharu of Timamu Food Solutions, a GSSE MBA student venture delivering market-based nutrition solutions to the three million babies living across East Africa’s urban slums.
As MBA students, we’ve committed to memory the four P’s of the marketing mix – product, price, place, and promotion – and understand how the synchronization of these elements drives cohesion throughout a marketing plan. In conducting field research for the past eight weeks in Kenya, however, Timamu has adopted an alternative set of the four P’s in the context of food purchases among low-income urban consumers.
People – Prior to coming to Kenya, our mindsets as well as our business model focused heavily on our product. Based on a solid foundation of research, we strategized business operations and product attributes from a distanced point of view. Upon speaking with Kenyan mothers in the lower socioeconomic income segments, we’ve realized the need to center our business on people first. We’ve learned that compromising taste and quality simply because our consumers have less disposable income is not an option. Therefore, designing an aspirational product with perceived brand value by our market segment will be important for widespread adoption.
Partners – Affordability is the key driver in food purchases among low-income segments in Kenya. Mothers are very savvy consumers – with a limited amount of cash to spend, they carefully deliberate on how to get the most value out of their $2 per day incomes. From NGOs to private enterprises to multi-national companies, the nutrition players we’ve spoken to in this field all utilize partnerships, both public and private, to subsidize costs in order to achieve affordability. Such multi-stakeholder partnerships allow each party to exploit individual core competencies and strengths through a blended capital model. Timamu has fostered relationships with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and the University of Nairobi, who we hope to work with as partners in our value chain moving forward.
Presence – Due to low and uncertain daily wages, mothers living in urban slum communities are understandably risk adverse. When it comes to making food choices this translates to skepticism of new product claims such as high nutritional value. Timamu has identified grassroots distribution via local saleswomen as a way to increase education on health and nutrition. This not only increases our product presence and acceptance, but also supports local jobs and develops entrepreneurial skills among a marginalized population segment.
Place – We’ve observed that traditional promotion materials such as billboards and point-of-purchase display stands are not as effective in low-income urban markets in Kenya as painting storefronts. Interviews with representatives from Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola helped us understand that painting stores is successful for three main reasons: it is relatively permanent, it is welcomed by store owners who are responsible for painting as a way to keep their properties up to city code, and it is highly visible.
With this intimate exposure to our market through field research behind us, Timamu is now challenged with redefining our marketing strategy in terms of the people we are catering to, the partners we are collaborating with, the presence we are establishing in the community and the places where we will build brand awareness.