Stock-outs, unpredictable prices of farm produce and a lack of working capital are among the challenges that plague small restaurants and food vendors in emerging markets. These are some of the pain-points that TopUp Mama is working to alleviate since its launch in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, last year, and they appear to be headed in the right direction.
Njavwa Mutambo, who co-founded TopUp Mama with Emilie Blauwhoff, and Andrew Kibe, in February 2021, told TechCrunch that the startup has grown 10 times in the last one year, and has over 3,000 merchants (1,000 active) using its platform to make orders every month.
The B2B e-commerce startup, which has operations in Nigeria too, makes it convenient for restaurants and food vendors to restock. The startup sources supplies from distributors and farmers, and uses its fleet of vehicles to deliver them to vendors and other end-of-chain users. It also offers short-term credit.
“The average adult living in Nairobi will have at least one meal outside their homes every day, but the restaurants that support this consumption have extremely fragmented supply chains. The ability for them to get products for their businesses is extremely constrained. These are the same problems I saw my mother, a restaurateur for more than 30 years, deal with and what inspired this business,” TopUp Mama CEO, Mutambo, told TechCrunch.
“We work with individual manufacturers and distributors, manage the procurement process, and then aggregate the items in our warehouses, which have cold chain support. We handle the last-mile distribution as well. Our buy-now-pay-later product allows our clients to order more, and in a way that grows their businesses,” he said.
$1.7 million seed funding
The startup has also over the last few months developed tools, including a food delivery platform that helps restaurants better manage their operations and increase earnings by connecting them to consumers. These developments follow a $1.7 million seed funding it closed in December last year, bringing the total amount raised to $2.16 million.
Over the next few years, TopUp Mama are looking to be the go-to supplier for 50,000 businesses in Kenya and Nigeria, as they work towards being the largest grocery distributor in Africa targeting restaurants.
The startup enjoys the backing of a number of investors including Ventures Platform and JAM fund, who led the seed round with participation from Next Billion Ventures, Future Africa, Jedar Capital HoaQ Fund, First Check Africa and San Fransisco based DFS Labs.
“TopUp Mama empowers restaurant owners through access to affordable foodstuffs and powerful data analytics to deliver the delicious meals that keep us sustained and bring us together. Importantly, they also help restaurants grow their customer base while improving efficiency,” said Ventures Platform founder, Kola Aina.
The application of technology in solving supply chain challenges has been adopted the world over by startups such as Kenya-based Twiga Foods, which eliminates middlemen by directly sourcing produce from farmers and selling to customers or small vendors, mainly in cities.
Frubana, another restaurant tech start-up, which started operations in Colombia is in the same line of business as TopUp Mama. Frubana helps restaurants and small retailers to buy produce directly from farmers or manufacturers, also cutting out the middlemen and further bringing down the cost of produce.
TopUp Mama say they aim to create a “world-class food supply chain” that will contribute to the continent’s GDP, but first they want to capture the Kenyan and Nigerian markets.