My Business Story

Entrepreneur Gives Local Snack New Life

After musing for years about what to do with his favourite local snack, Tolu gives kokoro new lease of life

Entrepreneurship was hardly Tolu Fashanu’s immediate dream. His father wanted him to study Business Administration, but he opted for Mass Communication because of his love for broadcasting and ICT. As fate would have it, the 2010 graduate of The Redeemer’s University, Mowe, Ogun State, got off to a great start career-wise, during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year.

He reflected on his service year: “I did my youth service in Imo State and that was where I started my career in mass communication. I served at Heart FM, Owerri. Everything was going fine and there was no reason to complain.”

“Opportunity with interest”

After completing his NYSC, Tolu returned to Lagos where he took up freelance broadcasting at the University of Lagos radio station. It was a far cry from what he hoped for. It was during that period that he took advantage of what he called “an opportunity with interest”.

Business brief:
Started 2015
Social media contact:
Twitter: @teescrunchykokoro
Facebook: Tees crunchy cornmeal snack

“I have been a fan of the local cornmeal snack called kokoro since childhood. I grew up eating it and I loved it. I used to get my supply from Abeokuta, from where it originated,” he narrated. “I kept indulging in eating kokoro and one day, for the first time, I bought it in Lagos and the taste was different.”

Upon investigation, Tolu realised that the variety of his favourite cornmeal snack sold in Lagos had short shelf life because it had to be freighted in from Abeokuta. Lagos was eating stale kokoro. “I decided to deliver kokoro that will not lose its original taste to Lagosians ,” he said. 

Stiff resistance…

If it was tough to raise capital for the business, convincing potential financiers that the capital was going into the production of some not-so-popular local snack was daunting for Tolu especially when his parents had not recovered from the financial burden of sending him to a private university.

Tolu narrated his dilemma: “When I told my parents I wanted to do kokoro business, they asked if I was out of my mind. My mum was particularly stunned. My dad was more open-minded but they both said I should think of something else.”

Unhappy but not deterred, Tolu was convinced that his idea was worth a try. He enlisted the assistance of a neighbour who helped out with a business plan and encouraged him. “She actually projected my dream, but I knew if I wanted to follow her business plan to the letter, I wouldn’t start at all because it involved millions of naira. I convinced myself that I could start small,” he stated. 

Peculiar business, peculiar challenges

Starting small was not without its own challenges. He decided to woo sceptics by giving away free sample packs of kokoro, and it cost him a bit.

"She (my neighbor) actually projected my dream, but I knew if I wanted to follow her business plan to the letter, I wouldn’t start at all because it involved millions of naira. I convinced myself that I could start small."

“It was the price I had to pay. I didn’t take advantage of social media until later and the free samples went on for three months out of the little I had,” he explained. 

However, the reception was encouraging. Tolu said it was what even kept him going in the early days of his business. He recalled: “I remember giving some to an aunt who encouraged me greatly. She opened my eyes to the fact that once it goes round and people like it, I’ll start having competitors.”

There were other challenges too, such as distribution and the linguistic barrier, especially for a product that appeared to be a hyper-local brand.   

“I approached a distributor who deals in plantain chips to help me distribute thekokoro along with his plantain chips,” Tolu recalled. “After some time, he told me that street hawkers were mostly Igbo who could not pronounce kokoro. Some of them even called it cockroach! I immediately recalled the products because I didn’t want them to get stale in the distributor’s warehouse.” 

He had to employ support staff to reach consumers directly, apart from using friends and family who also sell the snack in offices.

Next level

With three part-time staff whom he trained himself, Tolu intends to take kokoro to as many retail outlets as possible: “I am still growing. I am still learning but I can assure you that it is not a bad business. My destination is to have kokoro in different flavours. You know, Pringles is made out of potatoes and you can see its reception everywhere. That is my vision – to put the local snack in every major supermarket and home.”