My first experience with moringa was not a pleasant one. I chanced upon the moringa pods (also known as drumsticks) at an Indian grocery store in Sydney. Intrigued by it, I enquired further and was told they often cook it in curries. So off I went, pleased with my purchase and thinking maybe it would be similar in taste and texture to okra. What I didn’t realise is that you had to peel off the tough husk on the outside before you cooked it! It was like chewing on wood and I never bought them again.
Fast forward a number of years, and I was surprised to find out that moringa is easily grown in Ghana, and has traditional uses. I would see moringa trees growing in our neighbours’ gardens, having recognised the drumstick hanging from them. Native to Northern India, and according to food.NDTV.com is mainly found on the foothills of the Himalayas. It is known as a miracle tree, having superfood powers in its leaves, seeds, flowers and even its roots. The health benefits are impressive:
- More vitamin A than carrots
- More vitamin C than oranges
- More iron than spinach
- More potassium than bananas
- More calcium than milk
- More protein than yoghurt
(sourced from Mingafoods.com)
Minga Foods, is part of MoringaConnect with co-founder Kwami Williams, leading production in Ghana while Emily Cunningham leads the beauty line (True Moringa) in the United States of America (USA). The background to how and why they started MoringaConnect is inspiring, and this Medium article covers this story and business model thoroughly if you want to read more into it.
My interview with Kwami was focused on Minga Foods since this is a food blog, and I wanted to find out more about their business in Ghana as well as more about their products which I have enjoyed for a few years now as well as consume daily. Let’s just say Minga Foods has brought me back onto the moringa bandwagon and I enjoy it in teas, smoothies and baking with it!
Minga Foods’ product range is currently made up of their moringa teas – plain, peppermint and lemongrass flavoured. In April 2017, they added to their product range with moringa powder due to popular demand from their customers. Prior to producing the powders, they used to advocate the multi-purpose usage of their teabags by using it for tea or to sprinkle over food and blend into smoothies. However, they found their “die-hard moringa lovers weren’t even using it for tea so it made sense to differentiate the products.” International consumers are used to the powder form as an additive to food, smoothies and shakes so it made sense for them to produce the powder as a way to break into the international market as well as provide another option for their current customer base in Ghana.
I first noticed Minga Foods’ moringa teas in one of the many Facebook group posts that fill my wall feed. I was impressed with the packaging and professional presentation. I had noticed moringa powder being sold in bottles at the supermarket, but this was packaged as tea and seemed like a easy way to include moringa in my daily routine. I asked Kwami what gave them the idea of packaging moringa to consume in tea bag form and he explained the question asked was “what is one thing Ghanaians consume almost daily that we could use in introducing moringa? We very quickly landed on tea as our first product application from conversations with potential customers. We tested our hypothesis and realized that tea also presented a great opportunity to show people that unlike most healthy options, moringa actually doesn’t taste bad and can actually be enjoyable!”
The Minga Foods motto is “make healthy easy” and their vision is to “make healthy foods more accessible, delicious, affordable, enjoyable, and innovative.” Not only is their target market, facilities across Ghana, but they would like to eventually spread this vision throughout Africa. Kwami continues to say “our dream is to have Ghanaians eating Minga daily. Minga every day, keeps the doctors away. At the heart of our remix of that quote is a desire to see Minga Foods products distributed and used as widely as Maggi cubes or Coca-Cola, from urban to the rural most locations in Ghana. Of course, we’re comparing ourselves to the masters of distribution who have worked on establishing their supply chains for decades…but that’s the dream!”
Kwami and Emily made the Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs list this year which is quite an accomplishment. Both leaders are extremely passionate about their social impact as a company. What definitely sets their company apart is their commitment to “improving the lives of our 2,500+ moringa farmers by paying them fairly, running nutrition workshops so they can use it in their own diets, and providing them the inputs and training they need to be successful farmers.” They are also now close to planting 500,000 trees and have provided over $462K of income to the farmers and their families.
Quality is also one of their passions, and having just received their organic certification, they are also the largest organic farm in Africa. Their products go through rigorous testing to make sure consumers get the best moringa from Minga Foods.
The process of farm to packet is laborious. Moringa leaves are harvested by hand and leaves are stripped from their branches. Leaves are packaged and transported immediately to their processing centre, where leaves are double washed with treated water. They are then dehydrated in their custom built dehydrators. Their leaves are milled into a fine powder for use in their tea and powder products. This process is done within 12 hours of harvesting to “preserve the freshness, colour, aroma and nutrition content”. Their pouches for packaging are imported, however printing, design, assembly and packing of the products is all done in Ghana.
The Ghana business environment can be rather challenging for small and new businesses. I asked Kwami about the challenges he has faced and how he manages to overcome them.
“Growing up, my mom often reminded me, “when the sea dries, you go by land.” We’ve basically lived that out in the face of any challenge in our path to scale. We’ve had submitted forms get “lost” in offices, and civil servants and even private sector professionals lie about processes in their offices to frustrate us. We’ve learned to be patient and uncompromising in the face of bureaucratic processes and hints to bribe our way through. In the face, of exorbitant interest rates on loans in Ghana, we’ve focused our fundraising efforts on capital outside of the country. Probably the toughest challenge was the dumsor crisis, where we were on twenty-four hours off, twelve hours on. When we realized that processing on generator was eight times more expensive than grid, we restructured our work shifts to maximize grid hours, even if it meant running machinery at 3am.”
Kwami lives and breathes moringa! He incorporates moringa in his daily routine by moisturising his face and hair with True Moringa oil, adds minga powder to his protein shakes and also sprinkles the powder on most of his food. On a hot Ghana day, he enjoys a chilled batch of minga tea with honey. Kwami’s wife, Daisy, also enjoys experimenting with her baking by using the moringa powder. I have personally tried their iced teas and lucky enough to try Daisy’s moringa macarons and they were delicious.
In Ghana, the moringa teas are popular particularly the lemongrass flavour, and the powder sells better in other markets (Asia, Europe and North America) where they enjoy experimenting with their food. Minga Foods is available for purchase overseas through their website (www.mingafoods.com). International shipping is available with free shipping in the USA.
More flavours of moringa tea as well as moringa products are in the pipeline, and you can follow them on their social media pages to be in the know when they are released.