Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Kimbo: Company behind success of popular Kenyan cooking fat

Kimbo Cooking Fat is a white vegetable fat made from refined palm oil. It had been a homestay in Kenya since the early 1950s up to the early 2000s when fierce competition knocked it out.

Unknown to many, KIMBO is an acronym that stands for the Kenya Industrial Management Board. It was likely one of the first cooking oil brands to enter the market before competitors like Vimal Shah’s Bidco emerged.

KIMBO cooking fat dominated Kenyan shelves from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Its production was first launched during World War II.

According to Kenyan Historian John Kamau, during the war, the military required access to products that would typically be sourced from Europe.

However, due to the wartime demand for shipping space mostly for arms and military personnel, shipping space was scarce for utility goods. This situation prompted the establishment of a factory named KIMBO in Nairobi’s Industrial Area shortly after the war began.

Among the products manufactured at this factory were fire bricks, cooking oil, insecticides, caustic soda, pottery, and ceramics.

All products were sold below the production price since the manufacturing company, KIMBO, prioritized public service over profits. When World War II ended, the KIMBO factory was renamed the East African Industrial Management Board.

Its board discontinued unpromising products, retaining only the successful ones, including KIMBO cooking fat.

The East African Industrial Management Board sought an investment partner and chose the Colonial Development Corporation, per a parliamentary act aimed at helping the industrial development of British colonies.

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With the war ending in 1945, the East African Industries assumed control of the assets, liabilities, and business of the Industrial Management Board in 1949.

During the 1953 State of Emergency, Unilever was invited to participate in the business. This partnership led to the introduction of products such as Lifebuoy, Lux, Cowboy, and Omo detergents to the East African Market.

With new competitors entering the once monopolized industry, Kimbo Oil and Cowboy were sold to Bidco Company in Thika, while Blue Band was sold to Upfield Kenya Limited.

Kimbo cooking fat lost its position in the market eventually after facing competition from Kasuku. East African Industries also rebranded to Unilever to focus solely on soaps and detergents.

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