A West African injection: the products getting the region’s flavour treatment

Fledging company DVees is hoping to bring snacks, spices and a range of other West African-inspired condiments into the mainstream.

27 September 2018
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West African cuisine has been creeping on to the scene with restaurants like Ikoyi and supper clubs from Chuku’s and Lerato and now it’s making a move into retail.

UK start-up DVees is bringing West African flavours to a range of condiments and drinks. It was founded by four Nigerian sisters who have a love of food and had explored business ideas from baking to catering. But it wasn’t until they held a dinner party that they stumbled on a winning concept.

“When we host guests and host parties we try and think of cute favours to give them and one of those days we decided to bottle the Chapman drink, which is our bestselling drink, so when we bottled it our guests said we should do it commercially,” co-founder Vese Aghoghovbia 'Wolu tells Food Spark. “The key driver is products can go a lot further than you can if you are baking or catering as we can export them.”

Chapman is a non-alcoholic cocktail that features at every celebration in Nigeria, which is made with an infusion of citrus, hibiscus, cucumber, blackcurrant and aromatic spices, although DVees have developed their own secret formulation. They also have a hibiscus tea called Zobo.

Aghoghovbia 'Wolu says the Chapman drink taps into the demand for good quality soft drinks that are comparable to alcoholic beverages, but can also be used as a mixer with spirits. The team already have another drink under development too.

Breaking down barriers

But on to the food. Focusing on condiments, DVees has created a Scotch bonnet mayonnaise, which can be used on sandwiches, and a Rodo sauce, which is a blend of scotch bonnet peppers, herbs and spices.

“With regards to the condiments, it’s another way to introduce flavours similar to what you would see with jerk spices or soy sauce, so people can try them and use them as dip with tortilla chips or use as marinade for a unique flavour,” she says.

Products also make West African cuisine more accessible by presenting them in an appealing and commercially viable way, rather than relying on traditional dishes from the country, she comments.

“We eat something called Eba (cooked ground cassava moulded into balls) and we take it with our hand and dip it in soups such as Banga Soups (made from the juice of palm fruit), so it’s very different from the English roast and potatoes. When it’s presented the way we eat it, it could be quite difficult for someone to agree to try it out just because it looks different,” she explains.

“Also its not readily available, it’s not something you would see walking down Brick Lane or in Mayfair. Nigerian or West African restaurants are in locations where you find a lot of West Africans already so they are almost catering to people who know the flavour already.”

Plus, people don’t understand the culture enough yet to want to try it out at restaurants, adds Aghoghovbia 'Wolu.

“We are trying to come into the middle and introduce flavours into products, so people understand how it tastes and what we have. Then from there if people see a West African restaurant, they might think ‘I enjoyed the condiments why don’t I try out the restaurant?’, so we are trying to bridge the gap,” she says.

New condiments coming

DVees products are currently sold in restaurants around London as well as on Amazon. But the brand has aspirations to end up on shelves like Waitrose, Harrods, Selfridges and Wholefoods and hopes for a future where people who desire delicious food will think DVees.

“What we see for the future is our company like a Pepsico or Unilever for West African brands, with different products, snacks and spices, and to be the go to company if you want to have a unique taste,” she says.

For now, there are two new condiments in the pipeline and a snack.

“One of it is something called locust beans, which are used widely in western Nigeria in particular and they are used in soups predominantly or as flavouring with cooking. We use the beans raw, but we are trying to come up with a condiment with the beans,” she reveals.

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