KENYA – Unilever PLC, a British multinational fast-moving consumer goods company, is set to diversify its Kenyan operations into corn starch production, aiming to bolster margins amidst challenges in the detergent business across East and West Africa.

Unilever views the corn starch venture as a strategic move to diversify revenue streams while also creating a market for maize grain for Kenyan farmers.

Speaking in an interview, Ben Lang’at, the company’s executive vice president for the region, revealed that discussions are underway for a joint venture to spearhead this initiative.

Lang’at stated that corn starch, an extract from maize grains, is a common food ingredient, often used to thicken sauces or soups and to make corn syrup and other sugars, highlighting the versatility of the product in various industries, including food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

He emphasized the importance of localizing raw materials, citing Kenya’s abundant maize production as a prime opportunity for self-sufficiency.

The proposed wet milling operations will produce sweeteners, corn starch, and corn syrups reviving a once-thriving industry in Kenya.

Lang’at lamented the closure of Corn Products Kenya Limited (CPC) in 2012, a local subsidiary of an American grocery products company CPC International Inc, after close to four decades of operation, citing rising operational costs, competitive environment, and the influx of cheap imports.

Before its closure, CPC was buying over 15,000 bags of maize from farmers every month.

According to him, Unilever is actively working on partnerships to ensure a steady supply of corn starch, a critical component in their product lines like Royco.

“We need to make sure that this kind of raw materials (corn starch) that are common to our base products like Royco are available locally, “he said.

He revealed that the company plans to work with different partnerships, in a joint venture deal to ensure that the initiative happens. Although he didn’t disclose the partners, he noted that the discussion is quite advanced.

The move comes amidst challenges in the home care product market, including the influx of cheap imports and forex shortages.

Unilever’s commitment to local sourcing aligns with its broader strategy of sustainability and community development. By revitalizing the maize refining industry, the company aims to contribute to Kenya’s economic growth while meeting the needs of its consumers.

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