How Cambridge start-up Storimarket is helping African farmers reach international markets

PUBLISHED: 17:54 07 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:54 07 November 2018

Tom Ellum, founder and CEO of Storimarket. Picture: Keith Heppell

Tom Ellum, founder and CEO of Storimarket. Picture: Keith Heppell

Iliffe Media Ltd

Sustainable and ethically-sourced products include Ethiopian teff crisps and chocolate-covered organic cacao beans

Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

A Cambridge start-up is helping smallholder farmers in Africa to reach an international market.

Storimarket, based at the Allia Future Business Centre in King’s Hedges Road, has been selling the products directly from its website and is now engaging with retailers.

Founder and CEO Tom Ellum told the Cambridge Independent: “We are building a farm-to-fork platform for sustainably and ethically-sourced food from farmers in Africa.

“We find really exciting innovative products made in Africa and farmed by network of smallholder farmers. We make sure there is a really fair, long-term relationship between the producers and the farmers.

Storimarket's goods are ethically sourced. Picture: StorimarketStorimarket's goods are ethically sourced. Picture: Storimarket

“Then we handle the logistics, compliance and marketing to allow them to get into international markets for the first time.”

Storimarket is currently selling six products – Ethiopian teff crisps, roasted whole macadamia nuts, naturally dried mango, naturally dried pineapple and raw organic cacao beans covered in dark chocolate – priced from £2.50-£6 via storimarket.com.

They are all plant-based and gluten-free, with 50g snack bags and 150g shared bags on offer, in fully biodegradable and recyclable packaging.

A ‘healthy, ethical’ snack box containing some of each farmer’s products is available for £23.

Ethiopian teff crisps from Dirkosh Crunch sold by StorimarketEthiopian teff crisps from Dirkosh Crunch sold by Storimarket

“We are giving them market access that is stable,” says Tom. “A lot of market access in places like Kenya is quite precarious Allowing them to diversify into more European and international markets is good for them.

“At the same time, we’re trying to ensure that more of the value of the price that consumers pay here goes back to the farmers, so that it is actually sustainable.”

Storimarket is careful in selecting the products to ensure reliable and quality stocks, and QR codes on the packets QR codes shows customers the story of their snack, from farm-to-fork.

“What we look for is someone with some traction on the domestic market, so they are used to the process of supplying on a regular basis and achieving quality during production,” notes Tom.

Storimarket is currently selling six products from African smallholders. Picture: StorimarketStorimarket is currently selling six products from African smallholders. Picture: Storimarket

“One of the biggest things we do is work with them on quality, both to the customer but also in terms of compliance so that they are meeting all of the standards that are set by the EU.

“On both front, it’s a bit of a journey, but because we have done this a few times now, it becomes easier.”

He says the reaction since the company launched earlier this year has been very positive.

“Consumers love the quality of the products – they are so surprised when they taste them,” he adds.

Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

“Part of what we do is the story behind the product. There is full traceability back to the farmer and complete transparency. We bring in the face and the story of the farmer to the front.

“After consumers taste the product, and they like that, they become endeared to the story of the social impact and the environmentally-friendly production.”

Storimarket is now looking to take its products into stores specialising in ethical retail. Radmore Farm Shop will take them from next year, and discussions have begun with half a dozen other outlets in the Cambridge area already.

“We’ve been selling direct to customers and now we’re looking to establish partnerships with green, independent retailers with a view to getting it on their shelves.”

Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

Getting it on supermarket shelves would, unsurprisingly, be “a longer journey”, says Tom, but he adds: “Eventually we’d like to. We have had some conversations with Marks & Spencer and Ikea. But it’s too early to go for those types of volumes and also their compliance.

“There stringent controls to get products into the European Union is one thing. But a lot of the big retailers have their own accreditation schemes and these are quite expensive, but they are there for a reason.

“If you think about British Retail Consortium accreditation, a lot of big food companies are spending millions to maintain that. For us, it’s prohibitive.

“We are looking at gradually working out our volumes and accreditations to the point where we could be on their shelves.

Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

“Now we are looking at going through retailers, it’s a question of where are they most excited. Do they want dried mango with a story and full traceability, or are they looking for something more exotic and truly African in its provenance?”

In the more exotic category are the £2.50 bag of Ethiopian Teff Crisps.

“Teff is a grain from Ethopia and is one of the oldest and smallest recorded grains. It’s considered a superfood. It’s a very innovative product using an indigenous ingredient that isn’t well known,” says Tom.

The crisps come in four flavours, but don’t expect cheese and onion. Your options are Afar salt, rich garlic, toasty sesame and firey Mitmita – the latter containing a round African bird’s eye chili.

One of the products sold by Storimarket. Picture: Keith HeppellOne of the products sold by Storimarket. Picture: Keith Heppell

The raw organic cacao beans covered in dark chocolate are another of the more exotic offerings.

“Raw cacao is again considered a superfood. Ours comes from Uganda,” says Tom, who visited all the farms this year.

“It was a great experience. We are working with five producers. Meeting them, spending time in their processing plants and going to the farm was really important to make sure the story is true and that we’re confident with the partners we’ve chosen,” he explains.

Storimarket is a four-strong team at the moment, with one person based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

“She is our chief storyteller. She has a good eye for spotting that story and spending time with the farmers and producers, and differentiating on the social side.

“We’re not just looking for a quality product, but one that is good for the planet and the community,” he says.

Retailers interested in stocking Storimarket’s products can get in touch with Tom at tom@storimarket.com.

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Farmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: StorimarketFarmers and producers in Africa behind the goods sold by Storimarket. Picture: Storimarket

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