Small Enterprise

Snacks and food spices firm Tropical Heat joins big league

Products of Tropical Heat displayed at a
Products of Tropical Heat displayed at a Nairobi supermarket on December 21, 2015. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA 

Tropical Heat is today a household name, raised up the popularity ladder by the wide range of food spices it produces as well as snacks such as potato crisps and masala sticks.

However, few people know that Tropical Heat is the trading name of Deepa Industries Limited, a 42-year-old company that has its humble roots in Thika town.

Deepa Industries, which makes tens of millions in revenue, started off as a cottage business run by three people making and selling a range of snacks from their house.

The current owners, Navin Shah’s family, took over the business in 1984 and set up a factory in Thika but the firm has since moved its base to Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

Sawan Shah, one of the company’s four directors, attributes its growth over the past three decades to high quality products.

“What has seen us grow the brand over the years is the attention to detail and quality. I think consumers can really relate to that and that is why they pick our products off the shelves,” Mr Shah told Enterprise last week. Deepa Industries was ranked 88th in this year’s Top 100 company survey, having participated consistently since 2012.

The company’s snack range includes popcorn, rice cakes, extruded snacks, peanuts, fried peas as well as potato crisps, chevda and masala sticks.

In the spices sector they process all the traditional spices like ginger, turmeric and chillies; herbs include basil and thyme as well as a range of masala for chicken, fish and beef.

At the beginning of this year the company launched the latest addition to their mixed masala range to spice up the popular githeri meal — a mixture of maize and beans.

Deepa Industries’ main market is Kenya but it also exports its products to 14 other countries including Uganda, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

At the moment, 35 per cent of its business is local large supermarkets and stores while exports take up a similar fraction. The remaining 30 per cent is accounted for by small supermarkets, especially those at petrol stations as well as both local and international hotels and restaurants.

“Our exports to the UK have been increasing considerably in the last two years and the US market has also been a big growth area for us this year,” said Mr Sawan.

Under the stewardship of chairman Nilesh Shah, Sawan’s grandfather, the business has grown its personnel to almost 150 workers. 

Imported raw materials

Mr Sawan said that to maintain quality, they source some of their raw materials “from regions and countries where they are best grown.”

For instance, some of their spices are imported from Egypt, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The importation of raw materials has not always played in their favour, Mr Sawan said, since some customers view some of their products as overpriced.

“We try to get as many raw materials as  we can  locally but the importation still leaves us vulnerable to the volatile exchange rate which, coupled with transportation costs, makes the cost of production a bit pricey,” said Mr Sawan.

The business has outgrown their 4,200 square-meter premises hence they plan to move the headquarters in the next two years.

The company’s management is also looking to expand its sales locally by tapping into the informal sector. It plans to use a fleet of vans to sell products to local shops and kiosks.

schao@ke.nationmedia.com