:: Specific Design Brief

Practical Action
2: Packaging - further information



Poorer Kenyan people (an increasing proportion) live for today. Their culture is to buy for today. If they buy for tomorrow they may have to sacrifice something today. So, they buy small quantities of the same things every day from the same place. If anything, that tradition has intensified, and the market has gradually adapted to that culture, so large-scale manufacturers now produce some things in small quantities so that the poorer people will buy them.
However, a process known as de-bulking is very common. Retailers will buy in bulk and then de-bulk into the quantities they know people in their locality will buy. If you went to Kisumu market on a Saturday night you would find it crowded with container lorries from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, all preparing to sell to retailers at the Sunday Market. Business is so good that the local authority will make between two and three million Kenyan shillings (about 100 shillings to a so 20-30,000) on car park charges every Saturday night. It is the second largest open-air market in Kenya and the largest in Western Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda combined.

However, the process of de-bulking is inefficient. Many commodities are de-bulked, predominantly foodstuffs, but everything is done by hand. It has to be weighed, packaged and sealed in separate processes. Different weights are required for different commodities. A method of weighing, packaging and sealing commodities would improve the system, especially if it was perceived to be classy. Pre-sealing bags would be an excellent addition for the retailer who de-bulks.

Packaging is also a problem. I was told that in Kisumu a 2 kilo bag of pre-packaged flour produced by one of the big national companies will sell in the market place for 38 Kenyan shillings (about 40p). A bag of flour produced locally without the branding and sold in an ordinary bag will cost 10sh (10p). Sometimes it may even be flour from the area that has been sold to the national companies. However, people buy the more expensive bags because they think they are more trustworthy. Packaging counts for a lot. An inexpensive but attractive package would improve the reputation and sales of local products.
In Kisumu town between 2 and 3 million shillings (20-30,000) are spent every day. 85% of the money goes out of Kisumu either to Nairobi or to overseas companies. It is small wonder that life for Kisumu people becomes increasingly difficult. They get less for the products they produce and have to pay more for those they buy.


Foodstuffs are the most common, though some liquids can also be bought in bulk and sold in small quantities.
Amongst the foodstuff items sold in Kisumu and Migori are flour, tea, curry powder, biscuits, sweets, spices. There is no market for preserved goods as fresh vegetables and fruits are available all the year round. There is also a ready availability of fresh fish from local markets, as the area is so close to Lake Victoria.
An example of how times have changed relates to the sugar market. Five years ago, the lowest weight packet of sugar you could buy in a local store would be kilo. In the supermarket it would be 2 kilo. Now the industry themselves are packaging in kilo bags and in the shops you can buy it in kilo or even a few spoonfuls sold in small plastic sachets. The market is driven by price and people who only have a few shillings to spend per day cannot afford to buy in large quantities. They will spend one shilling per day rather than five for a week. There is therefore a market for small-scale re-packaging.

Similarly with liquids and some non-foodstuffs that are daily necessities. Detergent for washing clothes can be bought in very small sachets. Cooking fat will be bought in bulk and then sold by measure into re-used coke or soft drink bottles. Kerosene is also sold in this way. Household soap is bought in bars and cut into smaller pieces.

Sweets can be bought in large packets and sold singly or packets of two. One stall holder told me he buys sweets in packs of 240 for 40Ksh. He re-packages them in a plastic roll that costs about 3Ksh that he makes into small sachets to contain two sweets each. He sells the sachets for 1 ksh, making his potential profit very good. He will sell a complete pack in one week.
Biscuits similarly are bought in bulk and then re-packaged by hand to be sold in smaller quantities. Spices are also sold - cloves can be bought in packets of two or three.