A Retail Dietitian Relocates to Kenya

A Retail Dietitian Relocates to Kenya

December 11, 2019
Retail Industry InsightsRetail Dietitian Profiles

By Ashley Kibutha, RD, LD

In case you haven’t heard, I recently relocated to my husband’s home country of Kenya. There are many reasons I have come to love this country, but especially for the business opportunity and ability for me to make a significant impact as a registered dietitian with experience from the west. I was a supermarket dietitian for Coborn’s Inc. for the last eight years where I learned the significant value of working in a supermarket with clients, the ability to offer various services and truly connect the client to their food. While there are many retail dietitians in the U.S., this is a gap I have become aware of during my many trips to Kenya. It’s a gap I hope to fill. 

Each year, chronic disease continues to creep higher and higher on the list as a main killer of Kenyans. We know how detrimental chronic disease is in the U.S. in terms of cost and productivity; now imagine the impact in a developing country where healthcare isn’t always accessible nor affordable due to 50% of the population earning under $2 USD per day and where we need to continue a high rate of development in order to compete with the world economy. Fast food and processed foods, all good in moderation of course, have become a status symbol in Kenya. With each passing year, fast food is becoming more accessible and more affordable and there is also a growing middle class that can afford these foods on a regular basis. In the traditional Kenyan culture, it’s a good thing for one to be overweight as it means they have money and can afford food. Thus, there are so many dynamics to consider with combatting chronic disease in Africa, and more specifically, Kenya.  

To my excitement, many U.S. retail chains have made healthy lifestyles a part of their mission and vision statements, and they actively promote healthy whole foods. It is my goal to build this same momentum in Kenya, showing supermarkets the significant impact RDs can make in terms of their sales as well as the heath of the communities and consumers they serve. As I embark on this business opportunity, I have learned a variety of things about Kenyan vs. U.S. retailers, including:

  • Many of the food trends we see in the U.S. are also in Kenya such as plant-based protein, kombucha and a focus on fermented foods, free from foods, ancient grains, sources of healthy fats, a desire for a wide varieties of produce that is locally produced as well as imported, unique and foodie offerings, smoothies and health juices and drinks.  The biggest difference is that traditional, whole, healthy food is cheap in Kenya and processed food is very expensive, creating a real opportunity for dietitians in supermarkets.  
  • Some Kenyan retailers, like Carrefour and Healthy U, are beginning to promote health and wellness, but also trendy and foodie items as well, including local products made by local companies with a big focus on food transparency as many Kenyans, just like Americans are very concerned about where their food comes from and how it was grown. 
  • There is an opportunity for dietitians to get involved in local product formulation so that these foods are cheaper for Kenyans as there won’t be duty and tariff fees that then get passed to the consumer. For example, why is avocado oil so expensive in Kenya when there is a large abundance of avocado in Kenya? 
  • In terms of store set up and layout, supermarkets here are quite similar to those in the U.S. They have the fresh counters for bakery goods, fresh meat and seafood and ready-to-eat deli salads and meals, cafes, coffee shops, juice bars, salad bars, and sell unprocessed grains, dried fruits and nuts from bulk bins. Some supermarkets are niche supermarkets with a focus on fresh, local and organic while others are a one-stop shop where you not only get all your grocery needs, but also furniture, appliances, salon needs, a wide variety of toys for kids, and clothing and shoes for the whole family. 
  • Online ordering and home delivery are becoming more common through several Kenyan retailers such as Greenspoon and Zucchini.

I look forward to taking my learnings from Coborn’s and applying them to the supermarket industry here in Kenya, connecting people with their food and empowering them to make the best decision for themselves and their families in order to live a high-quality life.