Nairobi city centre’s restaurant and eating scene is definitely evolving.
While existing facilities are dominated by the franchised fast food snack places popular with students and formerly branded “Kenchic”, several other independent establishments exist. These run the gamut from kiosks to food courts.
The newest fad though it seems is the explosion of “coffee houses” evidenced by the numerous establishments selling the beverage. It is hard to turn a street without noticing one.
Restaurant chain Java’s recent franchising has seen the brand spread almost all over the entire city. In between one-shop coffee brands are also trying to come up.
While medics and the “healthy food” bandwagon have been bashing fast food restaurateurs, there seems to be hardly enough alternatives offered.
On the rare occasions I’ve found myself in town and in need of good old plain authentic African cuisine, some walking is required.
Borrowing from the Java chain franchising, the question arises whether it is possible to take an authentic African food restaurant and scale it up to the level of 20 or more units.
Highlands, G and R and Iroko restaurants are my favourite establishments with rich traditional African food menus. The former two are in the city while Iroko’s outlets are concentrated in the North Rift towns of Kitale and Eldoret.
Judging by the client numbers in these three establishments, it is indeed possible to serve healthy foods at multiple outlets and stay profitable.
The push for a return to traditional diets isn’t without reason though. Medics and epidemiologists have shown an association between new diets and many of the lifestyle illnesses like diabetes, hypertension now rising in poor African families too.
One other often ignored condition linked to diet is the gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD as we label it and associated syndromes.
Commonly described as heartburn and stomach ache or “ulcers”, it ranks as one of the most common reasons for pharmacy and hospital visits directly linked to food eaten.
For those of us promoting traditional healthy diets, a look at the entire ecosystem is needed for such initiatives to work.
A common complaint from African foods restaurateurs is the high cost of their “raw materials”.
Take arrow roots and ground nuts for instance. Though healthier as a breakfast, their price per weight means few can afford it. The same applies for homesteads thinking of returning to these diets. On supermarket shelves sorghum, millet and traditional vegetables are expensive for most families.
The gradual reduction in acreage under these foods is worrying. There seems to be hardly anyone doing commercial farming or on a scale large enough to avail them at comparable or lower costs. To lower the costs, these foods have to be produced in bulk.
Storage is also an issue since most are perishable. A few establishments have resorted to sun drying traditional vegetables and tubers for consumption later on. However all that done without investments in marketing and promotion cannot work either.
Judging by the billboards, television, radio and print advertisements, traditional food advocates seem to be outspent on marketing by junk food vendors.
Packaging the healthy diets and marketing them as “hip” foods with an on-the-go aspect may help shed the “bland” tag they carry.
The Ministry of Health and health insurance firms should promote the healthy food consumption campaigns. In the long term it is a better bet on their savings.
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