The story behind Choice Health Network Ltd.
By Lilian Wangare
I interviewed Mr. Nick Nyaga, the founder and CEO of Choice Health Network a new brand in Nairobi that is committed to helping Kenyans eat healthy foods. Mr. Nyaga is changing the dairy industry in Kenya through a new yogurt called Tuti that has Aloe vera. I sat down with him to find out why he decided to have Aloe vera in the yogurt and his vision for Choice Health Network.
Lilian: Tell us about yourself and why you decided to start Choice Health?
Mr. Nyaga: I was working with Herbal Garden, the company that introduced Aloe Vera barbadensis plant in this country – the variety of Aloe that is used for drinking and making cosmetics. In 2011, the then Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation launched the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09. The findings in that report were frightening. It reported that about 50% of Kenyan mothers and 75% of children are anaemic, while 35% of young children are stunted, which means they will not achieve their physical and mental potential. This revelation shocked me. The survey concluded that the high burden of malnutrition in Kenya was a threat to achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Vision 2030. The survey showed that the nutritional deficiency is found in all classes of people – poor & rich, young & old, rural & urban, male and female.
At about the same time, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released an independent report that revealed that over 12 million Kenyans or 32% of Kenya’s population was undernourished. In 2012, newspapers reported that the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) was struggling to get recruits in many counties because of the poor physical health of our young people.
A study carried out by Mary Kinyanjui, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi and reported in the Daily Nation of 8th August 2011 showed that 61% of students who sat the KCSE exam in Gatundu North Constituency in 2010 scored D+ and below, and of the students who took that exam in Central Province only 69% scored above D+.
From these reports, it was clear to me, just as it was to the authors of these reports that undernourishment was taking a huge toll on the productivity of Kenyans in education, employment and every aspect of life. The Ministry of Public Health asked people and organizations to present proposals on solutions to solve the malnutrition problem.
This inspired me to begin the journey of searching for a possible solution to the health crisis in Kenya. And I thought of Aloe vera since it is a super food – it has proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, and is a native plant in all parts of Kenya. The problem was that Aloe vera is not a functional food since it’s not part of usual food. Functional foods are those that are taken every day, are part of usual food, can be obtained from natural products, are beneficial to the body, reduce the risk of diseases and improve the quality of life.
So I thought of milk since it’s easily the most consumed product in every home, but research shows that nutrients in milk are not readily absorbed by the body. But I also came across another research that reported a certain Bulgarian community where 3% of the population lived for more than 100 years, and the only explanation was that yogurt was part of their daily food – hence the fame of the Bulgarian yogurt. So I thought, why can’t I combine yogurt with Aloe Vera? And there my journey began.
LILIAN: How did you address the issue of bitterness and finding the balance in yogurt to make it nice to drink?
Mr. Nyaga: That was quite a challenge. Aloe Vera is fairly unstable and not palatable. So, I had to develop a way to deal with that character. Fortunately, yogurt has a strong character which is able to mask the bitter taste and strong smell of the herb. The Aloe Vera yogurt came out way better than I expected. We have been able to produce a quality and healthy product that Kenyans will enjoy. Kenyans really need to appreciate the nutritional benefits of Aloe Vera barbadensis and take up its consumption. It’s a super food which has been found to contain over 75 nutrients and 200 active ingredients including 20 amino acids, 20 minerals, 12 vitamins, 8 enzymes, complex long-chain sugars, etc.
The reality is that unhealthy foods are generally very tasty. But people need to choose to eat for value not just for taste if they care about their health. That’s how we came up with our Company name “Choice Health” because health is a choice based on the foods that you eat. We added “Network” because health and wellness are multidimensional and hence require many providers.
LILIAN: And where did you get the name Tuti from?
Mr. Nyaga: After getting the Aloe Vera yogurt right, I needed a name that will be easy for people to remember and pronounce. A name that resonates with health & wellness, long life and positive lifestyle change- a name with a good story. We searched and came across many names. We eventually found a story of a lady called Tuti Yusupova, who is recorded by Guinness Book of World Records as the longest living woman in recent history. The government of Uzbekistan claims it has proof that Madam Tuti who died on 28 March 2015 had lived for nearly 135 years.
Before she died, Tuti said that her secret to long life was doing lots of work outside in the fields, and living an honest life. She urged the youth of today to try and live in the company of good people and to appreciate times of peace. What a message!
LILIAN: How are you ensuring Quality Assurance is maintained?
Mr. Nyaga: Our factory here in Runda is equipped with state of the art machinery made of food grade stainless steel. We consulted the Kenya Dairy Board, Public Health department and Kenya Bureau of Standards on the factory and production process.
We have a dairy technologist who is highly experienced in making yogurt, and also engaged experts from Dairy Training Institute to ensure it is of the highest standard. We only use high-quality milk and the Aloe Vera is supplied by Herbal Garden.
I personally oversee the production to ensure standards are maintained at every stage. For many years I was involved in quality management programs when I worked with Unilever Tea, The Nairobi Hospital and Tata Chemicals (Magadi Soda).
LILIAN: What distribution channels are you using?
Mr. Nyaga: We have a distribution centre at Oshwal House on Tom Mboya Street – above Choppies which was formerly Ukwala supermarket. We also recently began stocking at the Total Petrol Station convenience store, next to ABC Place, as part of a partnership with an online store called Nunur. Nunur is an App-enabled distribution platform that connects producers with consumers. It was created by a company called Churchblaze and so far it has 350 outlets in Nairobi. The yogurt will be available in many other outlets in the near future.
These are the baby steps we are making towards ensuring the product is available to the public and we are working towards having Tuti Yogurt available in major supermarkets as well as the corner shop near you.
Click here to find more details about Tuti Yogurt.