Ethiopian coffee chain Tomoca opens its first outlet in Kenya

Tomoca, the best known of Ethiopia’s coffee shop chains, has opened its first outlet in Kenya. The new outlet is a departure – whereas the Ethiopian outlets are traditional affairs mostly targeted at locals, the new outlet in Nairobi’s upmarket Two Rivers Mall is a step up in terms of aspirational positioning.

Tomoca was established in 1953 and is a family-owned business based out of Addis Ababa. It runs a small chain of six traditional coffee outlets in Addis and also exports coffee. Kenya is its second international market for its cafes – it opened in Japan in 2015.

Kenya is a competitive market for coffee shop chains. Local chain Java House is the market leader, but there is a long list of others, including Dormans and Gibson Coffee House (long established coffee brands), Artcaffé, Café Arabika, Café Espresso, Vida e Cafè, The Mug, Connect Coffee and others.

The success of Java House has led to a surge in imitators and new entrants. In recent years, there has been shift in consumption patterns in Kenya, which has traditionally been a tea drinking market. Although Kenya has a strong history of coffee production – it was estimated in 2012 that there were about 150,000 coffee farmers in Kenya – only around 5% of production is consumed locally.

Unlike in Ethiopia, where coffee is drunk by people of all wealth levels, in Kenya coffee is considered a luxury. It is therefore interesting to note how Tomoca has also chosen to go upmarket to a more secure and obvious, rather than appeal to a larger base middle class consumers.