BIG5D Podcast Episode 21: Kune Food Managing Director Kennedy Kamau

"For us to be able to give our clients meals that are affordable, we need to own the whole value chain."

  
0:00
-31:12

Episode 21 of the BIG5D Podcast features an interview with Kune Food Managing Director Kennedy Kamau.

Kune Food is an interesting company in many ways. The Kenyan food tech startup’s model sits at the intersection of cloud kitchens, delivery apps, virtual restaurants, home meal kits, and more.

Following a pilot in Nairobi earlier this year, Kune is now gearing up to fully roll out a concept where it prepares either hot, on-demand meals or packaged ready-to-heat-and-eat meals in its own cloud kitchen, which it calls a “factory”.

The company currently is in the process of building a new factory that can produce up to 80,000 meals/day. The full Nairobi rollout is slated for October-November. Initially Kune will deliver only to area hotels.

No Deals with Aggregators

A key Kune selling point is value for money. So the company doesn’t plan to work with aggregators like Glovo or Uber Eats, which add cost for delivery, commission, and so on. This will create added pressure on Kune to spend money on marketing to build the brand and drive order traffic.

The company will also rely heavily on as influencer marketing. To this end, Kune is teaming up with Nelson Aseka’s AIfluence influencer marketing agency.

The on-demand meals will be delivered via Kune’s owned and operated, exclusively female delivery operation. These drivers which Kune calls “captains” will deliver meals (“30 minutes on average”) using a fleet of 60 electric bikes.

The heat-and-eat meals will be sold through supermarket partnerships.

Kune Baby, Kune Pets

Kune is looking at new food concepts that fit with their Kenyan-inspired, wholesome and healthy positioning. Kune Green is likely next. Basically salads. And Kennedy said baby and pet food concepts are also on the roadmap.

Kune also plans to expand internationally. likely beginning next year in Nigeria. In the interview, we expressed some surprise that the company was committing to geographic expansion before it really knows how well the concept will do in Kenya.

Kennedy said the Kune team is confident in how it will perform in Kenya. He also said the company is following in its investors’ footprints by targeting Nigeria and South Africa.

Reflecting on the Controversy

Kune raised an impressive $1 million pre-seed round in June. That event, normally a celebration, turned into a public relations crisis for the company over comments made by its founder, Robin Reecht, a French national.

Reecht’s remarks, published in TechCrunch, landed on many ears as at best tone-deaf and at worst a reflection of the “white savior complex.”

Reecht claimed in the interview that there was no way to get good cheap food delivered in Nairobi. This plus his suggestion that Nairobi street food wasn’t safe seemed particularly triggering for many Kenyans on Twitter. Reecht later apologized for his remarks.

The bigger picture of this controversy was that Kune, just as it was getting on its feet, walked straight into the emotional debate over widely perceived VC favoritism for white, ex-pat founders.

We covered the backlash against Kune in our SMME Tech Report newsletter back in June.

We asked Kennedy about the controversy, mainly to understand if it is having any lingering consequences for Kune as it prepares to launch the business.

In a bit of understatement, he described the incident as “unfortunate.” He also argued that Kune was a convenient target for pent-up anger over larger issues involving equity and inclusion in startup funding.

He also believes the size of the round — $1 million is a pretty big pre-seed round in Kenya — added tinder to the fire.

The controversy mainly played out on social media. And as we monitor the discussion on Twitter, it appears those who were upset back in June have moved on. For now at least.

The discussion of the controversy starts at around the 24.20 mark of the podcast.

Here is the full interview on YouTube.


Episode 21 of the BIG5D Podcast is supported by Matchcraft, a global martech company powering local search, social, and display campaigns. Matchcraft has introduced “Powered By”, a solution that productizes its suite of APIs, giving third-party platforms access to the technology behind its flagship AdVantage platform. Visit Matchcraft.com for more.


Here are some key passages from Episode 21.

Why is it so important for Kune to do everything in-house, from food prep to delivery?

“Because of what we wanted to offer our clients. For us to be able to give them meals that are affordable, we need to own the whole value chain, and try to cut as much costs as possible. One key area that you have mentioned was about the bikes. We are getting 60 electric bikes, which will be ridden by lady drivers. So we've trained 60 lady riders, or captains, as we call them, to do the delivery.

“Customers never get to see the people who are making the food. They only get to see the riders who are doing the delivery. So our app has to be top notch. And our riders needs to feel that they are part of the company. So we are taking them on as full time employees. Because they are the face of the company.”

Are you planning to prove out your model before committing to an international rollout?

“Our eyes are on Nigeria and South Africa. Two reasons. We are very confident that Kenya will be a success. We also want to ride on our VCs’ reach and areas of operation because Launch Africa is in Nigeria, and [unclear] is in South Africa. And they have other existing businesses there that we feel we can partner with to scale. And our investors have been confident in us and they are going to help us do that.”

What has been the fallout from the June controversy over remarks by your founder that some Kenyans found objectionable?

“That incident was very unfortunate. And it comes on the premise of something that had happened before. There was a huge discussion on African startups being not fully African owned. And that has been the discussion that has been going on and we cannot hide our face about that. So we took fire that was not aimed at us directly, but it was part of a bigger discussion.”