Thursday, May 28, 2009

Malcolm Riley - Gourmet Foods Entrepreneur

To see your product flying off the shelves at Selfridges Food Hall is a dream-come-true for any gourmet food maker. Malcolm Riley has achieved it with his very first product, thanks to a little-known African superfruit and a touch of serendipity.

In 2007, Riley – the son of an English father and a half-African, half-Indian mother - visited his family in his native Zambia. With plans in place to start his own food business, he was looking out for ideas for new and unusual products. By chance, he met the Mthanjara Women’s Co-operative, a group of women working to combat hunger and support AIDS orphans in the east of the country. As well as growing crops such as maize and ground nuts, the women also made food from wild fruits. One of their favourites was a traditional jam made from the highly nutritious fruit of the baobab, a tree that grows in vast numbers across Southern Africa.

‘As soon as I tasted it, I knew I had my first product,’ says Riley. ‘This jam was sensational and quite different to anything on the market in Europe. It had a creamy smooth texture like honey and tasted of apricots, lemon and lime. I was hooked.’

Armed with the recipe, Riley returned to Devon and set to work, naming his company Yozuna, which means “It’s sweet!” in the local Zambian language. He took a sample from his first batch of jam to Selfridges and their savvy buyers immediately signed it up in an exclusive launch deal. It has been so successful that Riley has added three new products to his line-up: baobab spreads made with chocolate and banana, and baobab lemonade, all of which will carry the FAIRTRADE mark.

The great thing about baobab, according to Riley, is that it’s not only delicious and nutritious – containing high levels of Vitamin C, calcium and iron - but it also helps to improve the lives of rural people in Southern Africa.

‘In remote areas, families often survive on less than $100 a year. They can’t afford seeds and tools for farming, but to harvest baobab costs them nothing and earns vital income for food, healthcare and education. The more baobab we eat in the UK and Europe, the more people in Africa stand to benefit,’ says Riley.

Riley works closely with PhytoTrade Africa – the organization representing the natural products industry in Southern Africa - to ensure that the baobab in his products comes from ethical and sustainable sources. He has also committed to return a portion of his profits to the Mthanjara Women’s Cooperative to support their extraordinary work.

‘After all, it was their recipe that launched my business,’ he says.

Riley says he also owes a debt of gratitude to the nutritionist and food writer Wendy E. Cook - former wife of comedian Peter Cook - whom he met while working as manager at his local farm shop in Devon. Riley had moved down from London to start a new life with his fiancée Sophie and explore his growing passion for natural and organic food. He and Cook struck up a rapport through their shared interest in food and Riley plucked up the courage to show her some recipes he had been developing. Cook was so impressed that she asked to use one in her forthcoming biodynamic cookbook.

‘It was a massive confidence boost for me and convinced me my future really was in food,’ says Riley. ‘Ultimately it led to me setting up Yozuna, so I have a lot to thank both Wendy and the women of Mthanjara for!’

1 comment:

  1. He is doing a wonderful job to enable all those people make a decent living from their labour. This is the best way to reduce poverty by allowing people to participate in productive activities instead of handouts. As they say in Africa, water that you beg for can never be sufficient to cook a meal....get your own! Keep it up.

    Phillipa, Kenya