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Meet the woman whose sustainable company took off after ditching Dragon’s Den

Ex-investment banker Chika Russell has taken the UK by storm with her line of African snacks – but she is also making a huge impact in Nigeria by supporting local food suppliers.

When Chika Russell appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2015, to vie for investment in her West African snack business, she had never imagined that every Dragon would give her an offer. But after taking up Peter Jones on his bid, she decided to strike out on her own.

“Partnering with Peter Jones should have felt like I did on my wedding day, but for some reason it didn’t,” she says. “I can’t put my finger on what it was, but because of that I couldn’t move forward.
 
“I definitely stand by my decision to follow my gut. After all, it’s my gut that’s got me this far.”
 
Today Chika’s Foods can be found in most major retailers, including Waitrose and Holland & Barrett. From toasted nuts to plantain crisps, every product is inspired by the exotic foods and flavours of Nigeria, which Ms Russell remembers from regular holidays there as a child.
“We want to deliver amazing flavours, and it’s all healthy and natural,” Ms Russell says. “But what I think has really helped our brand stand out is our provenance – our wealth of history and heritage.”

Ethical Products

Ms Russell did not just want to bring these delicious flavours to the UK – she wanted to support communities in Nigeria as well.

Her strong partnerships with vendors and producers across the country are core to her business model. This not only means her products are authentic – her peanuts are dried beneath the hot African sun before being hand-toasted – but also means she is creating jobs in the region.

“We love the fact that Chika’s Foods creates employment,” says Ms Russell. “We also support all our team in sending their children to school, and making sure they receive an education. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the education I had. If everyone had the same access to schooling, the world would be a better place.”

Another thing that sets Chika’s Foods apart is how it is empowering women. Ms Russell’s lead producer, Mama Efe, even has a likeness of her silhouette on the company logo. “I feel I have a duty to help other women and girls become more confident and achieve,” Ms Russell says. “It’s so important to inspire the next generation of female leaders to strive for success.”

Positive mindset

Notably there still are not many women in the food industry. Having started her career in investment banking – leaving the industry when she had her first child – Ms Russell was certainly used to being one of the only women in the room. But she is never felt this was a disadvantage. For her, being agile is the key to making a business succeed.

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