Superfood business tapping into health trend in Africa and abroad

Superfoods are tapping into a new market in Africa and abroad and is becoming quite the health trend.

October 6, 2022

In a recent article in the online publication ‘How we made it in Africa’, founder and writer Jaco Maritz spoke to the Moringa Initiative team about their growth path, and the health and superfood trends driving the success of the brand.

Below is an extract from that article.

Moringa Initiative, founded in 2013 in Zambia by Evan and Bernice Kilburn, has established itself as a substantial international bulk supplier of dried moringa leaves as well as branded products that contain the nutritious superfood. Moringa Initiative opened a branch in Durban, South Africa, headed by the Kilburn’s daughter Natasha and her husband Lloyd Abernethy.

Venturing into a new crop

The Kilburns had been successfully farming in Zambia with various crops when moringa was mentioned in a casual conversation back in 2012. The couple did some research and, wowed by the nutritional benefits of the superfood and motivated by their business dream of venturing into agri-processing, employed various smallholder farmers to cultivate the crop on some of the available land on their farm. They also registered a new business, Moringa Initiative.

Dry with care

Abernethy says moringa requires a rigorous drying process to ensure a quality end-product.

“It is a finicky crop in terms of the bacteria, yeast and mould that can be found within the leaf,” he explains. “However, if harvested and dried correctly, you can rid yourself of those complications.”

The company could tap into Evan Kilburn’s experience as a tobacco farmer – where the crop has to undergo a similar process – when it built its custom drying unit. “After harvest, the moringa is dried at a specific temperature for a precise time to get the nutrients at a perfect level. This controls the humidity and the moisture within the leaves.”

Explain the product first, then convince to buy

Today, the nutritional benefits of moringa are quite well known, but when Moringa Initiative had its first products ready for sale it was a different story. Abernethy says part of their marketing drive is still aimed at educating the buyers of its health qualities.

“Moringa is a niche item; in the beginning, it was difficult to convince retail buyers to stock it. We did have the benefit of novelty because it was so unique and brand new; it at least piqued interest and we had some early successes.”

Wholesale as a game changer

Although Moringa Initiative’s main objective was always the creation of a retail brand, it has found significant traction in the wholesale market, which now accounts for the bulk of its revenue.

Over time, the company realised its core strength lay in its primary agriculture production capabilities and that wholesale supply is a viable and sustainable income stream. “The Zambian and South African markets are only so big. We’ve now established good partnerships for wholesale in the US and EU.”

E-commerce post-Covid-19

Moringa Initiative has its own e-commerce website and, in South Africa, it is also available on While it placed its product on this digital marketplace from when it started selling in the country, the pandemic lockdowns really pushed online sales.

“It picked up immensely and hasn’t slowed at all,” Abernethy reveals. “Brick and mortar stores still bring in 60% of our retail sales, but online has already picked up to 40%. This growth surprised us, to be honest, we didn’t realise there was so much scope for growth and sales on an online platform in South Africa.”

Riding the health and superfood wave

Moringa Initiative wants a share of the growth the superfoods industry is experiencing and is even considering expanding to other crops.

Another trend that benefits the company is that modern consumers are actively looking for the backstory of the product and the brand. “When they are drinking moringa tea, they are interested in where it was grown and harvested and what the journey from sowing to shelf looked like. We aspire to being seen as a clean-label product: organic, GMO-free, no pesticides, no chemicals,” Abernethy says.

Moringa Initiative will be receiving its organic certification soon, a move that resulted from a trade fair in the US, which the team attended in 2019 in search of export markets for its branded goods. “The main takeaway was that no one in the EU or US was interested unless our product was organically certified. Getting this in place will really help us,” he adds.

For further information on Moringa Initiative, visit their website or contact them on +260 979 639 800. Email:

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