Started 42 years ago in a home in Thika town, Tropical Heat has grown to become a household name in Kenya, making every kind of snack from rice cakes to fried peas, as well as traditional spices, herbs, and spice mixes. The current owners took over the business in 1984 and have since nurtured it into now a Club 101 business, following several years as a Top 100 business.

The current owners took over the business in 1984 and have since nurtured it into now a Club 101 business, following several years as a Top 100 business.

Previously Deepa Industries Limited, Tropical Heat has moved on from its Thika town base into a 5,000 square-meter manufacturing plant in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, with 250 employees across 10 departments.

Its snacks range includes popcorn, rice cakes, peanuts, and fried peas as well as potato crisps, chevda and masala sticks. It also processes all the traditional spices, such as turmeric, ginger, chillies; while its herbs include basil and thyme; and it also makes a range of masala for chicken, fish and beef.

“Continuous improvement, a thirst for innovation, attention to detail, a focus on quality, self-evaluation and, most of all, an excellent team with a great attitude are some of the attributes that have brought the brand this far,” said Mr Sawan Shah, a director at Tropical Heat.

The company sources its raw materials from the regions and countries where they are best grown, for instance some of the spices are imported from Egypt, India, Malaysia and Thailand. It has also recently beefed up its packaging through a partnership with an Australian based company, which has installed new packaging equipment to bag potato crisps, taking them from the conveyor belt, filling, and then sealing the foil packets.

These efforts have seen Tropical Heat gain ground in several international markets including the UK and the USA. In Africa, its biggest export sales, across the 14 African countries it sells to, are to Uganda and Tanzania.

“We are proud of the strides we’ve made so far and the growth we’ve achieved by breaking into several export markets, where the regulations for food products are very strict,” said Mr Sawan. However, even with such success, the company has faced challenges. Mr Sawan explains that one of the key challenges has been the inconsistent supply of raw materials such as spices and potatoes. Maintaining low prices for consumers is also a challenge, as a result of rising wages and agricultural commodity prices.

However, “we are constantly engaging with farmers and setting up out grower schemes with the aim of providing an outlet for them and a constant supply for the company. We also constantly review our processes and look for efficiencies to counter the rising costs of inputs,” said Mr Sawan.

Achieving consumer loyalty against the backdrop of ever intensifying competition has also been a challenge. “We strive to differentiate ourselves and take a forward-looking approach when it comes to product innovation and development. In addition, we’re constantly engaging with our consumers and trying to provide good service levels as part of our mission.”

Currently, the company’s expansion strategy is to improveprocesses, continue to deliver quality products to consumers, increase capacity and build the brands. But “above all, we hope to enjoy the ride ahead,” said Mr Sawan.

-AFRICAN LAUGHTER