April 18, 2023

From zero to hero: How Newfood thrived against all odds

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Newfood is a Tunisian agribusiness startup that produces and caters ready-made meals. Founded by Malek Fakhfakh in 2016, the company has overcome many challenges, including financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the assistance of SPARK's LEAD programme, Newfood was able to raise $500,000 and create almost 70 new jobs, becoming a catering leader for the health, oil and gas, and automotive sectors

Malek’s story is a true testament to the power of determination and hard work. With a passion for the food industry, he gained practical experience within food and catering companies before starting his own venture. With an eye for innovation, Malek set out to establish his own startup, Newfood, to introduce new, healthier foods to the Tunisian market.

“Starting a business can be a daunting challenge due to the bureaucratic hurdles one may face,” explains Malek. “However, I refused to let those obstacles prevent me from pursuing my entrepreneurial aspirations.

One year later, Newfood had established its first food factory in Mahres, Sfax, which is in the south of Tunisia. Newfood met international certification standards (ISO), which was a significant challenge and financial burden for the company. Yet, after extensive training and preparation, Newfood was ready to launch.

Just as they were about to enter the Tunisian market, COVID-19 pandemic struck and within three months of its launch, Newfood was struggling. The company had zero revenue coming in and empty pockets. Malek started to panic as he couldn’t even pay his employees’ salaries or the factory’s electricity bills.

Quickly adapting to COVID-19 lockdown realities, Newfood diversified their customer portfolio and started supplying catering companies and petroleum companies with ready-made meals and selling directly to consumers by collaborating with delivery companies.

“We had a high-performing startup that cannot continue to thrive due to the lack of funds to expand or create new products or enter new markets.”

In 2021, Newfood had overcome most of the crisis and became the first supplier of the Tunisian Ministry of Health and the official supplier of hospitals and medical staff during the lockdown. However, the company was still facing a significant problem with funding and financing sources.

“We were stuck,” explains Malek. “We had a high-performing startup that cannot continue to thrive due to the lack of funds to expand or create new products or enter new markets. I recognised the value of seeking guidance from entrepreneurship and SMEs growth support programmes, as well as INGOs that offer support to startups in the region. Although at the time, I was unsure about how or who to approach for assistance.”

Enrolling his business in the Local Employment in Africa for Development (LEAD) programme by SPARK, financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Newfood received technical assistance in adjusting the business plan to the new, post-COVID market.

Malek identified the real needs of his company, received guidance on fundraising, restructuring its cash flow, business plan and growth development, he was able to actively participate in pitches, approach investors, and secure a remarkable $500,000 for Newfood. This amount exceeded his expectations by far and reflects the quality of his work.

Supply Chain in Newfood's Factory in Sfax-Tunisia © 2023, SPARK
The CEO of Malek Fakhfakh Newfood instructs his staff © 2023, SPARK

Today, the company has gained a reputation as an outstanding food provider in various industries, including health, onshore and offshore oil and gas, and automotive sectors. Their remarkable work has been widely recognized and appreciated by their clients in these fields. The company is producing and packaging ready-made salads, starters, meals, snacks and desserts for its clients. Since the restructure, Malek has scaled his company to create almost 70 new jobs, thanks to the support of the LEAD programme.

Malek’s success story is an inspiration to entrepreneurs worldwide. His determination, hard work, and willingness to seek support and advice from others have paved the way for his company’s growth and success.

The LEAD programme is implemented in Tunisia and Somalia/Somaliland, helping young entrepreneurs, particularly women, and existing SMEs to acquire the technical skills required to grow their businesses, by facilitating access to markets, providing technical and soft skills training, and offering financial support.