Chipsy Food Industries, makers of the nation’s favorite salted snacks, are taking a different approach when it comes to
giving back to the community
By Omneya Makhlouf
PHOTOGRAPHY BY omar MOHSEN
Can a bag of Chipsy improve your life? Perhaps not directly, but the makers of these beloved snacks hope that their corporate projects will help give farmers, factory employees and needy families better lives by improving their job and leadership skills. Working on a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects that help provide financial backing and material donations to support marginalized communities, Chipsy Food Industries (CFI) is taking a different approach by giving people the knowledge to develop themselves.
Mohamed Shelbaya, vice president and general manager of Chipsy Foods of PepsiCo Egypt and North Africa, will tell you it’s been a good four years for CFI. Chipsy has grown from the nation’s largest salty snacks company to the second-biggest salty snacks company in Asia and MENA, with one of the highest topline growth rates for PepsiCo worldwide. And that makes Shelbaya a very happy man.
“We’ve been on a transformation journey for the past three to four years,” Shelbaya begins. “These are truly very exciting times in Egypt; the country is changing, the economy is changing, the consumer is changing, which means companies have to change as well.”
With over 4,000 employees and 3,500 workers in every plant, CFI, whose product line includes Chipsy, Doritos and Crunchy, strives to produce high-quality products that live up to the slogan of “survival of the tastiest.” But in parallel to its aggressive expansion plans is CFI’s pledge to create employment opportunities and work to improve the Egyptian economy. The goal, supported by a year-round CSR program, is to improve the standard of living for people in the workforce in order to impact their personal lives and, at the same time, their productivity. “We need to focus our CSR efforts to really make an impact,” Shelbaya explains, “because if you dilute it too much, you don’t create that impact.”
This CFI does by transferring knowledge so people can develop professional skills, whether they need to start a project, understand what it means to give a sales pitch, or learn new ways to plant agricultural products.
A Chain of Knowledge
A key part of CFI’s CSR strategy is to develop entrepreneurship by collaborating with local organizations such as Injaz and Rise Up. In many cases, Shelbaya says, NGOs work closely with Chipsy because they are able to direct the company’s attention towards pressing issues related to their expertise.
The snacks giant has also been targeting young entrepreneurs and assessing their projects through different competitions. Chipsy professionals provide their feedback, and the winner is invited to partner with the company in their entrepreneurship endeavors. “The winner actually comes to the company and meets with senior partners to develop his or her project,” explains Shelbaya, pointing to AUC Rise Up, an entrepreneurship summit that took place in November 2013, as their latest mentoring projects.
The nation’s high levels of poverty and limited availability of food have set the stage for Chipsy’s farming campaigns, which fall back on the operation’s agricultural expertise to introduce new knowledge and skills to farmers. Chipsy owns approximately 10,000 feddans of potato farms, which Shelbaya describes as a “center of knowledge.” Farmers benefit from the availability of the land and the training they are given. “We help the farmers not just as a corporation, but as a school. We give the farmers the seeds for free and teach them which fertilizers work best and how to plant,” highlights Shelbaya.
When farmers plant the seeds, the company also reaps its benefits. “If the trainers teach the farmers, the sales [for the company] will come automatically, but the opposite isn’t true,” says Shelbaya. He describes this as a win-win situation because the company helps the farmers develop professionally, and in return the company is able to get a larger stock of potatoes.
The general manager says the philosophy of mentoring extends throughout the company. “Every aspect of what we know we pass on to them,” notes Shelbaya, “even with our employees. A big part of the success of a company is training the employees and making sure that they also train the people [that they supervise].”
When a farmer or employee parts ways with the company, they can take their knowledge and skills with them to teach others — which Shelbaya thinks is a good thing. It’s what makes the company’s social development efforts sustainable, creating a community between the farmers and the trainers so that there is a continuous transfer of knowledge at all times.
“It’s all about placing the right culture into the organization, [a culture] of ‘I want to make people better,’” says Shelbaya. “If every company does that, I think Egypt will have a workforce that can do miracles.”
Another project close to Shelbaya’s heart is the Food for Education program in Upper Egypt. A survey showed that families in Upper Egypt were pulling their children out of school so they could work. Chipsy wanted to change that. So, they have teamed up with the UN’s World Food Programme to supply families with a set amount of food each month on the condition that they keep their children in school. “We have 700,000 students impacted by this program, which is truly amazing,” says Shelbaya, who proudly claims that this is the most successful of the projects and takes personal satisfaction in seeing the children who stay in school grow up to become successful and professional individuals in society.
CFI is also working to open up new factories around the country so that they can encompass communities as a whole by hiring workers from the area and developing their skills. The logic to this, Shelbaya explains, is that when a company is run by the workers for the workers, they tend to develop a sense of loyalty towards their work and their job. This not only engages them in their community but also provides substantial economic growth for that area.
“We see a sense of pride when the employees get promoted after starting off at the bottom,” says Shelbaya. “The workers want to achieve better results because it’s for the good of their community. When I go to Assiut they’re always giving me suggestions on how to make things better.”
Chipsy sees the Delta and Upper Egypt as a big opportunity for this type of work because it hasn’t been focused on much in the past. “I always prefer investing in projects that have a long-term benefit for the community and for Egypt,” comments Shelbaya, who maintains that “we need a culture of training and a culture of empowering people. […] The best feeling is when you hear of someone that you coached saying, ‘Chipsy helped me do this and that, and they are the reason I am where I am today.’ That alone is enough.”
Once in place, Shelbaya believes, that culture of teaching will be inherited over the generations.
To make the impact they want when marrying expertise with opportunity, Chipsy looks for project partners whose strategies are aligned with theirs, including NGOs and different ministries. A successful example has been the Pepsi Football Academy in Alexandria, which trains middle and high-school students so they can compete in the International Football Academy also run by Pepsi.
Unlike richer countries where governments are able to fund development projects, Egypt does not have that sort of spending power. Chipsy’s GM believes that companies can do their part through their CSR training and financing programs, but that the government needs to play a role, too.
“The private and public sectors must work together on social development,” says Shelbaya. “The government should help to organize the roles of the companies with social programs so we can avoid overlapping projects. They should work as mediators to bring all the sectors together instead of each company doing something on its own. […] Hard work and sustainability have to be a priority for every Egyptian out there. […] In tough times, you may have to work harder for a better tomorrow. And Egypt will soon recover.”
A Month of Charity …
While the overarching company strategy is about sustainability, Shelbaya says that Chipsy does work on charity initiatives, especially during Ramadan. This year, the snack food company is collaborating with NGOs such as the Egyptian Food Bank and providing financial and food donations to help supply as many people as possible with iftar meals.
“People feel that the corporation is trying to get involved with social programs and that’s extremely important during Ramadan,” says Shelbaya, acknowledging that Chipsy is getting a marketing boost at the same time.
The company also encourages its employees to get involved as individuals in both charity and CSR. For example, if an employee signs up to have a charitable donation deducted from his salary, Chipsy matches that donation piaster for piaster. To encourage staff to donate their time, the company sometimes dedicates a day for employees to go out and distribute Chipsy products.
And Munching …
Next to the spiritual benefits of giving, Ramadan is also about food. Shelbaya says that the demand for Chipsy increases during Ramadan, and with the World Cup in full swing, Chipsy sales are set to skyrocket. He also asserts the recent FlavorsCup campaign has hooked Chipsy consumers on the five new flavors representing ethnic foods from Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Spain and Mexico.
“This campaign is really about the empowerment of people, hearing peoples’ views and trying to give them different experiences especially because not everyone can travel,” Shelbaya says, explaining the logic behind the FlavorsCup campaign. “If you can’t go to Brazil, we’ll bring Brazil to you.”
But it was no easy feat, and Shelbaya counts off challenges with the production capacity, storage and distribution standpoints. It was equally difficult to get consumers to understand what Chipsy was doing and encourage them to actually try the new products. “Usually we only launch two to three flavors, but five is a lot, and five is a risk,” says Shelbaya, “but the team did a fantastic job and it’s been very successful.”
The World Cup is giving CFI the chance to get its products within arm’s reach of consumers, as they nibble throughout the Ramadan nights. Distribution is key. “The consumer must know where to find their favorite Chipsy product and it must be available,” he says adding that Chipsy is also running special offers and promotions during Ramadan and the World Cup tournament.
So as a snack- happy nation, which Chipsy flavor do we like best? “Salt is an essential in Ramadan for families as a side dish for their food during iftar, so we focus on it and make it available,” Shelbaya says. But by far the most popular flavor is the zingy chili and lemon, Shelbaya reveals, which may come as a surprise to many.
“The demand for all our products increases because there’s a time to munch between ifitar and suhour in front of the television.” et