Chika Russell shared her story with millions of viewers on BBC 2’s Dragon’s Den last year. What those viewers didn’t see is how she turned down the £30,000 offer to take her Nigerian-inspired snack foods across the nation alone. Here’s how Chika’s has grown
Chika Russell’s eponymous business, Chika’s grew sevenfold year-on-year since its launch in 2014.
Her products are now stocked in 750 retailers including Waitrose, Ocado and Whole Foods stores nationwide, and following a recent trip to West Africa, Russell is currently working on Chika’s Change, a project within her company which will help children in the region have greater access to education. Russell speaks with GrowthBusiness on her guiding principles in growing her business.
Name: Chika Russell
Location: West London
Date Launched: February 2014
Number of employees: 10
Chika Russell and team
What does your business do?
Chika’s is a food business that supplies super tasty and premium, African-inspired snacks to national supermarkets, fine food retailers, airlines, hotels and food service businesses in the UK and Europe. Our product range consists of eight different crisps and nuts and this range will continue to expand. We are now launching our snack subscription box where we combine our premium snacks with a partnership with the shildren’s charity, SOS children. Every snack box subscriber while also receiving their weekly snacks simultaneously sponsors a child through education in Africa.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
We started Chika’s two years ago with the simple aim of trying to do something exciting and trying to enrich people’s lives through food. Our products are inspired by the foods of my childhood in Nigeria and I wanted people in the UK to experience the same great flavours that I got to enjoy growing up. Through our subscription box, we have taken this goal of enriching lives one step further and hope to create a whole movement that does good. We’ve called this initiative Chika’s Change.
How did you know there was a market for it?
There are major changes in consumer eating habits with a lot more interest in new food experiences. The large players are just not set up to innovate to meet the demand for new, contemporary food products. We didn’t ‘know’ for sure there was a market for Chika’s but the feedback we got from objective friends gave us confidence that there was at least a niche for our initial product – hand toasted West African nuts – such was the overwhelmingly positive response. Ultimately, we believed that the reason there were few main stream African-inspired snack brands was not about a lack of demand but more no-one had properly engaged the main stream market
How did you raise funding, and why?
Since the age of 16 I have always worked part-time and saved and invested money. Within a couple years of finishing university I’d bought my second property so I was lucky enough to be in a position to launch the business with my own savings and then take out equity from my properties when I needed to fund the growth of the business when we were extending the range of products or adding more staff. I have gone this route because I put in so much effort to the business that I wouldn’t want to sell a stake in it when the valuation was much lower than what I thought was possible further in the future.
Describe your business model in brief.
Quite simply, it is to build a brand that is synonymous with high quality and super tasty snacks that takes its consumers and friends on a taste adventure.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
I’m going to mention the first two big milestones. We were launched in Wholefoods within five months of starting our business, that felt like a first, small but very meaningful step forward. Second was out first national listing with Waitrose in August 2015.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
It’s changed from what I would have said a year ago, when I would have said dream big, challenge yourself and go for it. That’s evolved a bit as I now realise the importance of enjoying the journey and not just enjoying it when you reach that far away destination. In short, don’t stress about where you are not; rather, celebrate where you are today.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’d like Chika’s to be recognised as a domestic household brand in the UK but with global reach and where we are responsible for putting tens of thousands of children through education through our Chika’s change subscription snack box.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
A school teacher. I think education is hugely important and incredibly powerful. I love teaching and enjoy helping my children to learn. I love children so a teaching role would combine both.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
Enjoy each day; have as much fun as possible; set yourself ambitious goals and go out there and achieve them. Life is fun but don’t take your eye off the goals and go out and achieve.