17/07/2013

Mushrooms for All: Prototyping for Personal Consumption


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By Graham Thompson, Kigali Farms Summer 2013 Fellow 

Arriving to Kigali Farms in mid-June, it quickly became apparent that Kigali Farms proficiently sold substrate tubes in large numbers to experienced outgrowers cultivating mushrooms for commercial production. There was potential, however, for Kigali Farms to extend its impact into the lives of everyday Rwandans. Sam Niyomugabo, Manager of Outreach and Education, conceived of a product that would give any Rwandan the opportunity to grow nutritious and affordable mushrooms in their home for personal consumption. I learned I would be taking on this project. I was eager to begin and had much work to do.

When the GIY kit was first introduced to me, Kigali Farms expected to sell the "kit” as the ultimate do-it-yourself product where the company would simply sell substrate tubes to households and the household would place the tubes in plastic buckets- material omnipresent in every household in Rwanda- add dirt and water, and grow mushrooms. But then we asked ourselves: Why should the burden be on the household to organize all the materials? Isn’t there a simpler, more user-friendly way to grow mushrooms yourself?

To explore answers to these questions, I began prototyping with 10 different types of kits. Prototyping is a product development process that involves experimentation and trial-and-error with a variety of product designs and materials that enables product developers to bring the most efficient and in-demand product to the market. The process often reveals unanticipated obstacles and trends in consumer preferences. As I prototyped various iterations of the GIY kit, I experimented with local and everyday materials including boxes, bags, sacks, and buckets. The process of building the prototypes quickly revealed the trouble of dirt. Including dirt in the kit would be expensive and labor intensive, so we scrapped the dirt, opting to leave households to dirt procurement. From the 10 prototypes, the staff and I selected two designs that appeared to be the most cost effective and efficient.

Before going to market, I wrote a small business plan identifying the demand, supply, and potential distribution channels to be sure the product was feasible on two levels: for customers and for Kigali Farms. I ran an analysis on the numbers to ensure that customers would be financially benefitting from growing mushrooms themselves as opposed to buying them fresh. I also made sure Kigali Farms could earn a small profit when selling kits, covering our own costs. I found that the GIY kit could accomplish both. Time to test the product on the market!

Our store in Nyarugenge market was the first sales channel we explored. On the first day, Joyce and I sold 3 kits for 1,200 francs each. We found high interest in the kit. Many consumers expressed interest in the details of growing mushrooms and plan to visit us again. We will return to our store tomorrow with more signage and questions for feedback on the kit…

Graham is a hard working, "get your hands dirty" entrepreneur. He will be a senior next year at Stanford University and hopes to shock the world of management consulting after school. Graham learned of Kigali Farms while researching for a paper on businesses in the developing world and desired to join the cause in Rwanda.
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