In Nigeria, a mother’s search for tasty, nutritious food for her son spurs a baby food revolution
For Women’s History Month, we spotlight Oluwaseun Sangoleye, founder of Baby Grubz, a Nigerian baby food company. As a first runner-up in the African Development Bank’s 2020 AgriPitch competition, Sangoleye and Baby Grubz received a $10,000 grant from the Bank’s Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multi-Donor Trust Fund. We asked Sangoleye about her journey to change the way mothers think about nutrition and feeding their babies.
When Oluwaseun Sangoleye became a mother for the first time in 2012, she had no idea motherhood would inspire her to start her own company and that she would one day be supplying mothers in Nigeria, and other parts of West Africa, with healthier food for their infants. An engineer with a degree in computer science, when she gave birth to her son, she had given very little thought to what babies eat.
“I just believed they were born, you breastfeed them, and then somewhere along the way they start eating regular food,” Seun (as she’s known to staff) recalls.
However, when her growing baby refused to take baby formula, she was desperate to find an alternative. She asked her mother, mother-in-law and women at her church, but none of their suggestions worked. She searched online for help, but found no local content on how or what to feed babies.
“Everything I found online was from the UK or US, but I noticed they all promoted food purees and thought, ‘I can do that here!’” she said.
Seun created a few different recipes from pureed fruits and vegetables, including bananas, sweet potatoes and carrots, for her son to try. To her surprise, he liked them and wanted more. Excited about her discovery, Seun became an evangelist for tasty baby food, sharing the information she had with mothers and caregivers in online forums and social media channels. As her following grew, the women began to ask her to make food for them. So she did. However, it wasn’t easy – she faced a few challenges at the start.
Although her son was eating the new food she prepared for him, he wasn’t getting all the vitamins and micronutrients a growing child needs. He soon developed rickets, a skeletal disorder that’s caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphate.
This sent Seun back into research mode. This time, she focused on learning more about the nutritional needs of growing babies at each stage of their development. She spoke with dieticians and nutritionists, and discovered many babies in Nigeria were malnourished.
“I decided then that I didn’t want to just use this info for my son and the few mothers on the forums. I wanted to do something that could help more African children and mothers,” she said.
In 2013, she launched Baby Grubz(link is external), a Lagos-based social enterprise that produces affordable, nutrient-dense food and snacks for babies and toddlers using locally-sourced grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables.
With over 30,000 followers on Instagram(link is external) and more than 325,000 mothers connected to nutrition advice via an online platform, Seun’s Baby Grubz journey has included education for mothers, helping them understand the nutritional needs of babies. Her team of 18 employees, which includes 16 women, are also given basic training in nutrition when they join the company.
“At Baby Grubz, we believe that poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand,” said Seun. “Our holistic approach leverages the strength of mothers in the fight against malnutrition by empowering women traders, nutrition educators and breastfeeding advocates in their communities.”
The Baby Grubz team outside their factory in Lagos. “Mum-in-Chief” Seun Sangoleye (center in pink) was the first runner-up in the Women-Empowered Business category at the Bank’s 2020 AgriPitch Competition in November 2020.
Baby Grubz has expanded its women-only distribution model across Nigeria, Ghana, and even to Nigerian and other West African mothers in the UK who are looking for familiar foods to feed their babies.
Although COVID-19 lockdowns in Nigeria have impacted Baby Grubz’s domestic supply chain, the business has grown over the last year as mothers who typically bought imported baby foods looked for local options due to closed borders and shipping delays.
“We’ve seen an increase in sales, mostly from people discovering Baby Grubz for the first time,” said Seun.
With a healthy son, who will be nine this year, and a growing business, Seun is determined to be an example for other African women entrepreneurs: “Baby Grubz is a multinational company of African descent selling indigenous products. These are the building blocks of excellence.”
Seun participated in the AgriPitch Competition bootcamp where she received training on investment readiness, financial management and market readiness. She was first runner-up in the Women-Empowered Business category and will receive follow-up mentoring for six months. The AgriPitch competition is organized by the Bank’s Enable Youth Program.
-Africa Development Bank also photos