One of the most recent ventures to join the IBA community, Tamalli is approaching malnutrition in Kenya – with ambitions to address all of sub-Sahara – with an innovative idea. We spoke to entrepreneur Tyler Goodwin to learn more about the concept.
What is Tamalli, and what problem are you trying to address?
Tamalli addresses the problem of malnutrition due to aflatoxin exposure and low dietary diversity across Sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly aims to make a dent in maternal anemia and child stunting rates. We’re achieving this by developing a distribution model for nixtamal-based foods. Nixtamalization (alkaline cooking) is an ancient Aztec technique for processing maize for optimal nutrition quality – equivalent to and perhaps more important than the invention of bread.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea began with a basic understanding that nixtamal is better, and we quickly realized how uniquely suited it is to solve serious nutrition challenges – through a reduction in aflatoxin and phytic acid (which both prevent micronutrient absorption). From there, the question of how to create a distribution model ubiquitous enough for impact led us to the idea of building the foodservice supply concept. Informal outlets are serving up a significant portion of people’s diets, but few people are happy with the quality food they’re getting – so it’s an enormous opportunity.
What makes your idea innovative?
When the Portuguese brought maize from Central America to the Congo in 1590, they left behind nixtamalization as a crude tribal practice. Had they understood it’s vitality and brought them together, nixtamal would likely already be widely consumed across Africa today. The goal of our innovation is to make it seem as natural as if it had never been missing.
Opportunities to introduce health approaches superior in both taste and nutrition are rare, and particularly absent in Africa – so our idea development was driven by an exploration of how we could capitalize on this advantage. The foodservice supply focus allows us to position the intervention as something exciting that can be shared the way new foods have always been shared – by a passionate cook around a table (or street stall).
Our customers don’t have the luxury of experiencing new foods through travel, so we love the angle of being one of the first companies to deliver something exotic in their neighborhood at an affordable price. We’re also enthusiastic about the way Tamalli can catalyze further cuisine development. Latin Americans have used nixtamalization for thousands of years, and eat maize in hundreds of ways – whereas most African countries have invented only a handful. The real innovation will happen once Tamalli sparks a desire to experiment with new foods.
What successes have seen so far? What challenges have you faced?
It’s still early, but we were encouraged by the success of our first taste prototypes. As part of our design research, we sold several recipes through informal vendors over several days, and the response was very positive. People were excited to try the new recipes, and the vendors who participated played a big role in leading us toward the foodservice supply concept. Their enthusiasm about the food and belief in the obviousness of the solution were instrumental in pushing us forward.
The main challenge is that nutrition interventions are complex. There was no single piece of evidence to point toward our solution, and it was difficult to pull together a credible impact model based on authoritative sources. Nutrition has historically been the realm of traditional aid and development approaches — which means we may face skepticism about the approach, and obstacles in finding the right funding and support for an early stage inclusive business.
What do you expect from the IBA community?
We joined IBA because it’s a community of people who share our belief that inclusive businesses can be a compelling solution to big challenges like nutrition. We’re interested to connect with any members who are interested in sharing ideas about nutrition or building inclusive businesses, and also hope to build a bigger network of collaborators and funders through the community.