It takes a village - building a world-class export service for Africa

Posted by Daniel Idowu on

There’s an African proverb which says it takes a village to raise a child. I couldn’t agree more. I’m grateful for the villagers who have helped get Value Africa this far.

I remember the precise moment when I knew it was time to start the business. I was in Abuja for a consulting project. It was designed to support African business growth – connecting them to Indian businesses to partner and transfer technology. Great concept, but I started thinking about what else could I do to support African business growth.

We started as a consultancy and now have a trading arm specialising in Africa’s finest craft food and beverages. We have consulted in Rwanda and traded in Glasgow. We have done market stalls, festivals, trade shows, pop-up shops, exhibitions, and private functions. We have been busy, but I feel like we’ve only just started!

Our vision is to establish Value Africa as the premier distribution business for companies on the continent looking to export to the UK.  In 2023 we move from alpha into beta.

Help from the village

Before quitting my day job, I needed advice. Incidentally, the first few people I sought advice from have subsequently either bought a bottle or given me a consulting contract. Special thanks to Bryony Everett, Dominic Campbell, Julian Smith, Lea Simpson, Jonny Britton and Julian Thompson.

However, the book which made it clear to me was Dambisa Moyo – Dead Aid. I wanted to support Africa to trade. I mapped out six sectors where I thought Africa could compete globally and started searching for products. I wasn’t fixated on the cheapest, but the best. We would compete on quality, not on price.

It has taken a while to establish the trading arm, but six years later, we have strong foundations and a world-class product range. Today we accelerate!

Stage one was filled with a few challenges. I will do a deep dive on each of these topics in time, but here’s a quick recap of the challenges and a shout-out to the villagers who helped me to overcome them.

  • branding
  • legal and compliance
  • lack of industry knowledge
  • supply chain and logistics
  • lack of resources


The Value Africa brand needed to be modern and innovative. On one hand, it needed to make Africans feel proud and identify with it. On the other hand, it needed to feel inclusive and speak to the wider world.

My initial brief, written in 2017 included the following: “My business is an Africa-focused growth consultancy. It's a new start-up and it is trying to disrupt an established industry. Think Pop-Culture meets deep analysis… I want to create an authentic/contemporary African brand.” The model has changed, but the vision remains the same.

The logo is our visual identity. I worked with a few designers to get to a version I am currently happy with. It says Value Africa in bold. It includes a contemporary African drum – which is also an inverted VA. It also includes a pattern which is a nod to traditional African design aesthetics.

Shout out to Jane-Frances Mbafeno for the design. She nailed it!

Lack of industry knowledge

I started this business looking at areas where I thought African companies could compete on a global scale. I had to balance this with capital requirements and where I could add the most value.

Alcohol makes up most of our product range and it has been a steep learning curve. You don’t know what you don’t know. I fast found out, that I knew nothing about alcohol, except drinking it. One of the first people I reached out to was Lorraine Copes of Be Inclusive Hospitality and she’s been a star, but also David Richardson from the Wine Spirits Trade Association, Hannah Lanfear of the Mixing Room and Mags Janjo, MJ Wine Cellars have been superb in helping me understand the industry.

Legal and Compliance

We wanted to build strong foundations from day one. Getting strong legal contracts, trademarking our brand and ensuring we were compliant with regulations were important.

This has been more costly, time-consuming, and frustrating than expected. Our legal documents and submissions have been largely managed by Jonathan Lea and Associates. Together, we have done trademarking, contracts and SEIS submissions. A special shout-out goes to Hannah Butler, previously of Jonathan Lea and Associates with whom I started the journey.

Supply chain and logistics

This has been the major challenge for the past couple years – but I think we are finally here. We now have a stable roster of Africa’s best alcohol brands. We have just started working with Reel Fruit, which will be a game-changer for the business – their dried fruit is amazing.

African logistics have been an eye-opener, but we now have a network of partners who help us navigate customs. Judith and Julie understand customer service and are extremely patient. UK logistics haven’t been easy either and we’ve switched distribution partners three times, but we have settled on an amazing partner Future Pro Logistics. Martin and Rachel – have been a pleasure to work with thus far and we are well-placed to grow.


Start-ups are hard and managing all of this as a solo founder has been a challenge. Days are long, and nights are short!

However, I haven’t been alone. I have a fantastic network of family and friends who help me out. Whenever I am struggling to make a decision or need a second opinion, I have a contact book that is so responsive. My friends have helped reviewed documents and pitch decks, looked over my financial models, critiqued graphic designs and pitched in at festivals and trade shows – all they needed in return was a thank you. There are so many to name here – but thank you all. 

I do want to give a special shout-out to Claire. I’ve brought her in to work with me part-time. She has helped free up my time massively and is leading our events programme which is now filling up fast!

Next steps 

We are excited to move into the growth stage of Value Africa.

We have our hands full with 18 different products. There’s always room for excellent products which showcase the best of Africa. If you are an African company in the Food and Beverage space looking to export to the UK, there is no better partner than Value Africa – drop us a message.

Lastly, we want to pay it back. If you have a start-up and are facing similar challenges drop me a line and I will see if we can help.

(Image: Pj Potter)

Africa Distribution UK

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