J-FINCRE EXPO: Do Your Products Meet Customer Needs?

Researchers Carolyn Koech and Joyce Nduta from the JKUAT Insect Farm exhibit their value added products. 

Budding entrepreneurs and innovators have been challenged to re-position their cutting edge food products and services to benefit from the ever changing customer needs and tastes if they hope to make meaningful impact in the competitive food industry ecosystem.

This was one of the perspectives shared, Friday, July 6, 2018 among participants during the Inaugural JKUAT Food Industry, Nutrition, Career and Research (J-FINCRE) Expo, which was organized by the Society of Food Technologists and Nutritionists (SOFTAN) – that draws its membership from the School of Food and Nutrition Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

During the Expo, whose rallying call was: Learn, Support, Innovate & Bridge the Gap, the Chief Guest, Ms. Fridah Kaaria of Kenya Breweries Limited, told the students that as innovators, they must acknowledge the customers’ changing food habits where “…People are going for easier and faster food.  You must innovate to improve yourself if you want to make an impact in the food industry,” she advised.

Chief Guest Ms. Kaaria (third from left) is taken on a guided tour of the value addition of instant noodles by utilization of edible termites exhibition stand. She is with from left: Prof. Mburu, Dr. Kinyuru and  Dr. Mathara.

Ms. Kaaria noted that “As an entrepreneur, you can design your world. You must endeavour to fly with your innovations and ensure they move from innovation ideas to commercialization,” and urged the student-innovators cum exhibitors to ensure that their innovations are protected through patenting in order to reap maximum benefits from their food products.

Drawing from her entrepreneurship journey when she was a student at JKUAT, Ms. Kaaria stated that processing technologies are changing so fast, while the consumer has become very particular about his/her tastes, hence companies must keep innovating in order to satisfy the sophisticated needs of the modern customer.

The Chief Guest also made a call to all student innovators most of whom are in their final year, to embrace a disruptive mentality because it triggers innovation.

Chief Executive Officer of Food World Media, Mr. Francis Juma who shared insights on: Sustainability and Inclusivity, observed that Africa is becoming more mobile and entrepreneurs have to move in the same direction.

He singled out the “Food habits and retail environment changes as well as adherence to compliance, transparency and natural products as some of the salient issues that the food science and nutritionists need to embrace.

Students’ panel discussion moderated by Ms. Wafula (right).

Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga in a statement read on her behalf by the Coordinator of Deans, College of College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Prof. David Mburu, lauded the Expo, which she said, provided a vibrant platform for students and industry to interact and foster academia – industry collaboration.

“In order to achieve sustainable food products development, it has become critical for industry to work closely with academia especially in areas of research and innovation,” she added.

Prof. Imbuga appealed to “the industry and private sector to partner with JKUAT and help in creating an environment that can nurture students’ ideas and innovations.”

Chairman, Department of Food Science and Technology, Dr. Maina Mathara observed that today’s multifaceted food industry and fast changing world calls for a close partnership between learning institutions and the industry. He further expressed optimism that the event would “highlight possible partnerships geared towards increasing productivity and innovativeness which can impact the food sector.”

Priscah Kiragu (left) showcasing the utilization of Pepino mellon in new product development.

SOFTAN Patron, Dr. John Kinyuru, appreciated the members of SOFTAN for making the School proud by successfully organizing such an important event. Dr. Kinyuru said, this year the event had incorporated a mini workshop within an exhibition.

The food products showcased by the finalist students under the guidance of their lecturers addressed the Food Security  and Nutrition Pillar of the Big 4 Agenda. The products included: Cactus flavoured yoghurt; Baked products fortified with Chia seeds; Beetroot and Whey products; Noodles fortified with termites and cowpeas; Caterpillar cookies and waffles, and Pepino Mellon value added products (Jam, Juice and Marmalade).

During the Expo which attracted university students from Egerton, Dedan Kimathi, Chuka and Karatina – participants put their taste buds to test by sampling a variety of nutritious and fortified food products by JKUAT food and nutrition sciences students, who said, they have always been challenged by their lecturers to seek solutions on how they can improve the nutritional value of foods already in the market.

SOFTAN Chairperson, David Ongeri urged students to be proactive and embrace club activities in order to benefit from similar Expo initiatives. Besides key note speeches, Dr. Kinyuru and Ms. Elizabeth Wafula moderated panel discussions on Technology and Innovation and Food Security, respectively. The Expo was supported by Food World Media, JKUAT Alumni Office and Keroche Breweries.