Habil Ibrahim, the founder of Cajuu tells the amazing story of how he's disrupting the nut market with an innovative and sustainable alteration on the humble nut, drawing upon his rich family heritage in Tanzania.
The food & drinks space is changing rapidly. Consumers are quickly being drawn to health trends such as veganism, gluten-free and environmentally conscious brands. For Habil Ibrahim, founder of Cajuu, these are values he takes seriously. He sat down to share his story and values that have propelled his humble cashew range of products into some of London's most sought-after locations.
1) Habil, for those not familiar with the background of Cajuu, can you give our readers a quick insight into your brand and products?
Sure, my grandfather opened a tailors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and from there started selling cashews as snacks to customers.
Due to the quality and size of the product, sourced exclusively from the fertile Makonde plateau in southern Tanzania, they proved very popular.
Over the course of 40 years, a cashew operation grew and developed.
A couple of years ago I started bringing the cashews into the UK and formed Cajuu.
We have developed a range of products including Trays (seasoned, roasted cashews with a Dip to leverage the size of them), Tubes (seasoned, roasted cashews in a nice on-the-go format) and Bites (cashew and date balls, perfect for a hit of flavour and energy and ideal with a beverage).
Just as we have taken care in the sourcing and harvesting of the cashews, we have equally strived to create a range that is unique and flavourful.
Everything is handcrafted at our SALSA accredited facility in the UK, is vegan, gluten-free, and natural.
2) Having spoken to you personally, I know the story and rich heritage of Cajuu plays an integral role in the branding. How important is this storytelling element in gaining traction in a fiercely competitive and saturated market? How was this helped you to stand out?
It's critical, however, it's not just for show. Yes it is possible to import cashews from Tanzania and try to create the range we have however we differ is indeed heritage - we have established connections and partnerships with hundreds of cashew farming communities across the Makonde plateau.
This takes time to nurture and develop as it's all about trust and integrity.
We provide equipment to ensure safe processing and a fair, transparent price for the product at all times - in return we obtain the best product harvest after harvest. We therefore have boots on the ground ensuring everything runs smoothly and Cajuu benefits from this every time we bring product in.
Where we also differ in the fact that we are cashew specialists; caju means 'cashew' in Swahili (local language of Tanzania) and we are the only company in the UK, and one of a handful in the world, to focus solely on cashews.
Once in the UK, we have linked back to this heritage in our branding, product range (natural ingredients with an African direction) and packaging.
3) There is a lot of talk about 'sustainability' with emerging and existing brands in the food industry now. You mentioned previously to me that you believed you were raising the standards on this and not merely rambling off platitudes consumers want to hear. Can you explain how?
I admit, Cajuu is a commercial enterprise however this is not the only reason why we exist.
The other is doing good, whether it be to our stakeholders or the environment, Cajuu has and always will do the right thing.
This sounds cliche however we've seen the damaging effects of what profit before anything else by corporations and governments does.
As mentioned we source our cashews in the most ethical manner and we extract the nut from the shell at farm level rather than export for processing meaning our carbon foot is much lower than other suppliers.
Whilst we use packaging that is 100% from recycled materials and can, in turn, be recycled, there is plastic in our Tray and Bites range.
After much testing and in keeping with the focus on sustainability we are due to launch plastic-free packaging very soon!
4) Lastly, where can customers find your products and what does the future look like for Cajuu?
We're currently stocked in around 8 independent shops in London and this is growing rapidly with various retailers and distributors expressing strong interest.
With our new packaging, you'll be sure to see our products in major retailers in the future. We also sell online and are at several big events throughout the year - simply visit our website to find out more.
As well as increasing our retail presence, Cajuu will launch various new flavours going forward, again all unique in their make up and with an African direction to harp back to our roots.
The beauty of the cashew is its versatility. Cajuu plans to utilise the nut in future products including cashew drinks, spreads, cheese and even ice cream.
Where we hope to come into a league of our own using both the 'cashew apple' and 'cashew shell' part of the cashew - components which are not fully utilised. We have made strides in developing new and unique products from this, watch this space!