In 2022, Save the Children reported that more than 185,000 children in Ethiopia were suffering from the most severe form of undernourishment as malnutrition soared in eastern and southern Ethiopia.
Another Mini-Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) done in 2019 showed that seven percent of Ethiopian children under five are acutely malnourished (have a low weight for their height), and 37 percent have stunted growth (have low height for their age).
Established in 2017, BeNu Foods is a startup biscuit production company and a social enterprise aiming to produce nutritional biscuits for children and adults.
Their biscuits give a child about half the calorie he/she needs for a day. Their innovative product contains 25% (18 g) protein content, which is equivalent to what can be acquired by eating three eggs.
BeNu was cofounded by Amen Temesgen, an architect, and Bethlehem Lakew, a nutritionist who graduated from Addis Ababa Science and Technology University.
Bethlehem is also the founder of LeHem Nutrition Counseling, which provides consultations on healthy eating and leading a healthy lifestyle.
The idea was conceived five years ago when Amen participated in an entrepreneurship project at the Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation in the USA.
Amen reached out to Bethlehem to design a formula for nutritious cookies. The idea earned them a grant from the institution and, after coming back to Ethiopia, they adopted and implemented their formula.
With workshops in Adama, BeNu was established with an initial capital of 20,000 birr, half of which was secured from the competition.
Watching underprivileged children in the lower-income slum neighborhoods of Addis Ababa was what first ignited the founder’s passion for developing a nutritious solution for kids. They designed their products into biscuits to make them appealing to kids.
BeNu has won several startup competitions, including Dot Ethiopia, in which they won second place for social enterprise, the Startup Ethiopia competition in 2019, and they were one of the top 10 scorers in the Reach for Change 2020 competition.
BeNu first took its products to the test in partnerships with a non-governmental organization in which they started feeding students in Melka Oba School in Sodere, 25 kilometers south of Adama.
Presently, BeNu provides its products to Raey School in Goro, Addis Ababa; around 400 children feed on their biscuits every other day through the Medan initiative.
In addition, consumers from gym goers, school feedings run by individuals, and others who want healthy, nutritious products buy their products.
BeNu sources all the raw materials they need to make their biscuits from local farmers. One pack of BeNu’s biscuits costs 10 birr.
Further, the founders say they have been unable to penetrate the market due to a law constraining foreign investment in manufacturing.
Because food manufacturing requires a considerable investment, they couldn’t bear the cost themselves. The only option they had was to find local investors to allocate the funds needed for production which they succeeded in doing.
BeNu plans to diversify its nutritious biscuits and reach the Ethiopian and African markets in the future.
BeNu describes their business as “hitting two birds with one stone,” stating that, on the one hand, they are supporting society as a social enterprise. On the other hand, they are building a successful business.
The cofounders want to use their business as an accelerator of a social cause whereby children under 12 years old in the public school system get adequate nutrition that they need to sustain their education. They also plan to implement a model in which when someone buys a biscuit, someone else who is less fortunate gets one for free.
They plan to scale their project until the national demand gap for biscuits can be satisfied, which they say is 200,000 tons/annum currently.
The domestic production of biscuits in 2019 reached an estimated 193,773tn, according to data from the Ethiopia Statistical Agency. In addition to domestic production, biscuits are also imported from various parts of the world.