Helping farmers get the most out of every animal, every time.
The Kenyan animal feed manufacturing sector is characterized by a large number of small, unregistered feed millers who combined accounted for about 50 – 60% of the domestic demand for animal feeds in 2020. 2021 was however not a good year for many of these millers with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reporting the closure of at least 30 feed mills and a reduction in milling capacity utilization due to steep price increases for feed ingredients.
Sigma Feeds survived that difficult period just like it had weathered many other storms that have hit Kenya’s food industry during the four decades that the company has been in existence. The secret? Catering to the needs of every animal that could exist in a conventional farm in Kenya be it a cow, goat, duck, or even chicken with high quality yet affordable feed. “We have such a large portfolio of products, we might be the only company in Kenya that caters to such a big range of species,” reveals Sanket Shah, Chief Operations Officer at Sigma Feeds Ltd. “We also make food for rabbits as well.”
A pioneer in the fish industry
Producing an extensive array of feeds for different animal species did not occur overnight. It’s the result of a gradual and strategic diversification process that was market driven. For instance, before 2010, Sigma Foods was not a player in the aquafeeds market. This changed when the government of Kenya launched a project to boost local fish production to meet the demand as well as stimulate economic growth. “All of a sudden there was a huge demand for fish feeds,” Sanket says. “So in the year 2010, Sigma pioneered the technology for the production of fish feed to meet this demand.”
Catering for a new animal species is however not a walk in the park. “Every species works differently in terms of nutritional needs,” the mechanical engineering graduate from Imperial College London reveals. “So fish farming is quite interesting because the nutritional needs are greatly varied from other livestock feed,” he explains. “As the fish grows, the nutritional requirements at every stage starting from fingerlings when it barely weighs a gram to maturity when it weighs between 350 to 400 grams.” He reckons that this requires feed producers to create a multitude of products to cater to evolving needs at the different stages of growth. The process according to the engineer is quite complex because different pellet sizes are required at each stage in addition to other factors like density, expansion, starch gelatinization, and protein denaturation. “It requires a highly skilled and knowledgeable team that understands this to create the right formulation that will achieve the desired feed conversion ratio for the fish.”
As pioneers in the market, Sanket reveals that Sigma was lucky to forge partnerships with international nutritionists who are significantly experienced in the production of fish feed. “We are now able to achieve the quality of feed that is needed by serious commercial farmers in Kenya,” he says. And so far, business has been good. “At present, we are looking at increasing our capacities so that we are not only meeting the needs of today but what we believe will be the demand in the next couple of years.”
Keeping up with pet owner demands
With pet ownership on the rise, demand for quality pet food has also emerged, creating a new business prospect that Sigma Feeds had not considered heretofore. “Importance of pets wasn’t fully realized in Kenya until the other day,” Sanket confesses. “If we go back in time, most people kept dogs for security and not necessarily as companions. But that has changed dramatically lately because people have realized that the benefits derived from owning a pet go beyond anything imaginable.” This has bumped up demand for pet foods and as a result, incentivized Sigma Foods to venture into pet food manufacturing. “Our role there is to ensure that it’s almost accessible to everyone by creating the best pet food at the lowest price possible.”
The pet food range is today comprised of three brands: Bravo, Fido, and Scooby. “Bravo is comprised of ready-to-eat pet foods,” Sanket explains. “They are processed using the finest ingredients that we source from all over the world.” Some of the specialty ingredients in these products include glucosamine and chondroitin which supports the joints, and more so for pets that are likely to suffer from arthritis. “We also use other specialty ingredients like brewer’s yeast that keep the coats shiny while also helping keep ticks and fleas away from the pets.” Sanket admits that not everyone likes giving their pets ready-to-eat food. “Some prefer to cook for them,” he says. “Fedo and Scooby exist to meet this need.”
Just like in Fish Feeds, Sanket reveals that Sigma Feeds also collaborates closely with highly qualified nutritionists to ensure the desired nutritional quality is achieved. “We work with international nutritionists from Germany, who have extensive and exceptional knowledge of pets.”
Although the pet food market is currently small, Sanket admits to having seen year-on-year gradual growth and is confident that the trajectory will continue in that momentum for the next couple of years. “I do believe that over the next ten years or so, Kenya or East Africa will be recognized as one of the countries that truly does love pets and keeps pets,” he says. “So I am quite excited to see that unfold over the next couple of years, having been in it already for a few years.”
We manufacture an extensive range of livestock feeds to meet the various demands of farmers across the country, from dairy, swine, poultry, and aqua.
A sector reliant on imports
With local cereal production inadequate to meet human food demand, the animal feed sector is forced to rely on imports to sustain production. “So we have to look outwards east Africa, whether it’s Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, or Zambia,” Sanket reveals. Other specialty ingredients such as vitamins and complex proteins are however not available regionally and have to be imported either from Europe, North America, or Asia.
Without local supply, the sector is however exposed to global supply chain issues such as the recent war in Ukraine which disrupted affected wheat sending prices to new historic highs. “The hope is that Kenya will be in a position one day to produce these products that are heavily required but unavailable. And we hope that farmers will be encouraged or there’s a plan set up to allow these ingredients to be sourced locally.”
Priority on continuous investment
Sanket admits that when he came operations were not as optimal as he would have desired. “I did realize that some technologies were outdated,” he says. Even though capacity was sufficient to meet demand, the technology did not deliver the desired level in terms of efficiency and running costs. That was not acceptable, especially for an Engineer of his caliber and stature. “As an engineer, it is extremely important for me to ensure that this business continuously invests in innovation and better technology,” he says. “That’s the only way we can be able to produce better products for today and the future.”
Under his leadership, Sigma Feeds invested in new technology from Andritz, a leading global supplier of milling technology. Sakent notes that the new line has a bigger capacity and produces better quality products. “Ever since we upgraded our facilities, we have seen a significant improvement in our running costs, our milling efficiencies, and our total capacity produced,” Sakent reveals. “Downtime has also reduced significantly because better machines essentially require less time to fix problems.”
Continuing a Father’s Legacy
As a father, Mr. Kirtesh Shah, who founded Sigma Feeds some 39 years ago, couldn’t be more proud of the work his son Sakent and his brother, current Sigma Feeds CEO Vandan Shah, have done so far. By constantly innovating to meet market needs and investing in new technology to secure the future, the two have lived true to the mission of the company: to help agribusiness owners get the most out of every animal, every time.
“We are fortunate to have been given an exceptional foundation,” Sankent reveals. “Growing up, we always accompanied my father to work, which gave us firsthand experience to understand how this type of business and industry works.” With this understanding, he admits that running the company has been a lot easier even after the gradual withdrawal of Mr. Shah from the daily operations of the company.
The two have also assumed clearly defines roles according to their expertise. Coming from an engineering background, Sanket is in charge of all the technical operations at the company. A finance expert with a bachelor’s degree from The London School of Economics and Political Science, Vandan has been tasked the with responsibility of ensuring Sigma Feeds operates in a financially sound manner. “He’s well suited to ensure that the business remains profitable while I ensure that our machines are running 24/7,” Senkat says.
Looking ahead, Senkat believes that there could be no better time to be in the animal feed industry than today. Population growth in Kenya and East Africa is creating more demand for animal-based food; be it meat, beef, milk, eggs, or from fish. Gradual increase in per capita consumption coupled with population growth automatically means that there is an exponential growth in the demand for animal feed products. With so many opportunities lying within reach, Senkat believes the sky is only the lower limit. “We are a fairly young team with a lot of energy, drive, and willingness to go beyond,” he says. “So we do hope that we could triple our business over the next 5 to 10 years.”