Channelling the universe: Aduna & The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab
By Andrew Hunt, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Aduna
How do you take an obscure African fruit that 95% of people outside of Africa have never heard of and transform it into a globally recognised superfood? Without any money. And from your kitchen. Believe it or not, this was the question myself and my Co-Founder, Nick Salter, started to brainstorm together the very first time we met. Fast forward five years and the answer we arrived at is this: it’s impossible. However, we also discovered that there is an extraordinarily powerful and unique X-Factor about this particular African fruit that has enabled us to make the impossible possible. And at Aduna we have a special name for this: The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab.
The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab
Known as ‘The Tree of Life’ the baobab tree is a drought-resistant prehistoric species that grows in the African savannah. While its name has most people saying “baobab what??” its silhouette is embedded deep in the popular subconscious, thanks to cameo appearances in The Lion King, Avatar and, last but not least, The Little Prince. But what almost nobody is aware of is that this extraordinary tree produces an equally extraordinary fruit. A rich source of Vitamin C, with almost 50% fibre and one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any fruit, baobab is a bonafide superfood. “So how come we don’t know about this already?“
Well, a complete lack of investment is the most obvious answer, but behind this sits the reality that the world is simply bursting with new products claiming to be the next big thing and, as consumers, we digest and excrete a million of these stories every day without even noticing. But baobab has something else to offer the universe that feels even more wholesome than its beautifying, energising, nutrient-dense fruit pulp: what it can make possible for some of the most marginalised communities on earth.
Baobab tree near Paga, Upper East Ghana where Aduna's supply chain is based.
There is no such thing as a baobab plantation; every single tree is family or community owned. Growing wild in the driest, remotest and hence poorest regions of Africa, 10 million households can supply the fruit from a crop that is so abundant it currently goes mainly to waste. National Geographic estimates that a global demand for baobab could be worth a billion dollars to rural Africa.
So, rather than trying to simply ‘sell’ baobab, what we do at Aduna is enroll people in its inspiring possibility - and this has enabled us to make some very real-world baobab miracles happen. Here's how the story goes…
From inspiring idea to reality
A few years ago, before Aduna had even launched, I found myself chatting to a woman in my local square. As usual, within a few minutes we were onto the topic of baobab. The woman turned out to be the Editor of International Vogue, who was so inspired that she gave me a 10 minute speaking slot at a conference she was organising. The speaker before me was Bono and after was Manolo Blahnik, and the audience were 500 leaders of the world’s top luxury brands. After sharing The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab I was surrounded by a hoard of willing volunteers. One of these was Karen Ellis, former Global Creative Director of Hugo Boss and Estee Lauder. Despite the fact that it was impossible that little Aduna could ever afford the services of a rare talent like hers (and for that matter our amazing branding agency Carter Wong, who worked at cost), she went on to help us create a world-class brand and is now our Creative Partner. This was pure baobab love in action.
Having put this wondrous product into some of London’s most prestigious retailers in beautiful packaging, we expected it to fly of the shelves. Not so. Why? Because nobody knew what it was. Our business plan was in deep, deep trouble. The solution? We recruited a small army of passionate volunteers who camped in-store every day for a full six months spreading the baobab love, taking it from being at risk of being de-listed to their best-selling superfood. A sampling campaign of this scale would have cost in the region of £250k, but we got it “for free”. Why? The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab, of course. Now we needed to scale it up.
So last year we entered Virgin Media Business’s Pitch to Rich contest; a gruelling nationwide public voting contest with 2,500 entrants. Rather than asking people to vote for Aduna, we created a mass enrollment campaign to #MakeBaobabFamous. The result? The campaign went viral and we finished top of the leaderboard with 13,000 votes and 24,000 Facebook shares - and I got an audience with Sir Richard Branson. Aduna walked away with a £100k marketing campaign and some very influential new friends. But how to deploy this manna from heaven?
The answer came in the form of Holland & Barrett – the UK’s largest health food retailer, who’s imagination was captured by The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab. The way the H&B team has worked in partnership with us to turn our dreams into a reality has been truly extraordinary.
Holland & Barrett's Belle Vale Store in Liverpool
Last weekend, bank-rolled by Virgin and in partnership with Holland & Barrett, Aduna launched a nationwide #MakeBaobabFamous campaign, including a window takeover of almost all of their 740 stores nationwide; a campaign that will drive baobab awareness into almost every town centre in the UK. And the piece de resistance? For the next five weeks, Holland & Barrett have rebranded to Holland & Baobab. And if you don’t believe me then just take a look at their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google accounts. Seeing truly is believing.
We are still only scratching the surface of what needs to be done and our vision of baobab as a billion dollar industry for rural Africa is still completely impossible. But, in the immortal words of Nelson Mandela, it is always impossible until it is done.