Faraz Ramji is the Managing Director at Norda Industries Ltd, Marafiki Africa Foundation and Les Enfants De Dieu.Faraz grew up in London (UK) He studied Development Studies and Politics at SOAS (2005) before moving to Rwanda to run a rehabilitation project for former street children (Les Enfants de Dieu).
Faraz Ramji isn’t like your typical manufacturing executive. Young, articulate and charming, the 31-year-old managing director of Norda Industries has an easygoing, guy-next-door manner about him, and his personality is evident in his company’s leading brand, Urban Bites Potato Crisps.
The crisps have been marketed as a cool, funky snack for teenagers and young adults to become one of Nairobi’s most popular snack brands, in a market where munching on snacks is seen as something only for younger children.
Ramji’s family is from Rwanda, where his grandfather, Tajdin Hussain Jaffer, founded Sulfo Industries, which began in 1962 as a small soap-making cottage industry to become one of Rwanda’s leading manufacturers of soap, detergents and cosmetics.
In the UK, where Ramji grew up, like much of the West, snacking is seen as something for everybody, both young and old, with overall consumption of crisps, crackers and confectionery going up.
In fact, recent studies have shown that the older demographic in the West is currently consuming more sweet and salty snacks than they used to when they were in their 20s, as eating regular meals has become a thing of the past for many middle-aged people.
Snacking is now mainstream, and industry executives have worked hard to make sure that potato crisps, for example, have become part of the regular restaurant menu—crisps with sandwiches, crisps with soup, crisps as a topping for salad, and so on.
In 2008, when he founded Norda Industries with capital from his grandfather, Ramji was just 26, and he immediately thought of making crisps appealing to not just children, but older teenagers and young adults.
But the first thing he had to get right was the flavour—and trial, error and lots of research would quickly teach him that what appeals to Kenyan taste buds is a very culture-specific thing.
Getting the mild flavour just right needed a series of rigorous trials with flavour
manufacturers, who are based in South Africa, as flavour manufacturing is not done in Kenya.
“We realised that Kenya is more of a market for sweet snacks and not savoury flavours—biscuits and sweets outsell salty snacks in every kiosk. So we thought of incorporating a sweet taste in our crisps, and that’s how the Fruit Chutney flavour was created.”
It worked, and Fruit Chutney is one of Urban Bites’ best selling brands. The other thing that the brand had to get right to distinguish itself was the packaging, adopting a matte packaging with a striking Nairobi skyline design in the background—a move that has proved to be very popular with consumers.