Ayoola Foods, makers of poundo yam, plantain flour, rice flour and a host of other food related products recently held its yearly customers’ forum before the lockdown. The managing director of the company, Engr. Segun Olaye spoke with journalists at the forum including Church Times reporter. Below are excerpts from the interview
What is it about the 2020 customers’ forum of Ayoola Foods?
It’s a programme we hold every year to encourage our distributors. We believe our distributors deserve all the support and encouragement. We also believe whatever accrues to us in the year we should share with our distributors. That is why the forum is important. The organization is not only about us but also about those who support and promote our products. So during the customers’ forum we give back to our distributors depending on how they were able to push the products. So, apart from the regular profits they make selling our products they have something reasonable to look forward to at the end of each sales year.
For how long has Ayoola Foods been doing business in Nigeria?
We have put in 19 years in Nigeria. Before then we were serving the foreign market. It’s been a challenging environment. But then, the Nigeria market is huge and promising. We have passed through very difficult times because of the changing economic policies of government. But by and large, its good doing business in Nigeria. Doing business in Nigeria is also our own way of contributing to the economy of the country and helping to solve the unemployment problem.
You talked about a challenging environment. What has been your staying power?
We remain focused and consistent. We are not taken aback by the challenges rather we think through it. We know that no matter what happens people must eat. So if people must eat, the food industry will always remain relevant. But it is important for us to do it well and do it right. Last year was particularly tough but we waded through. We don’t expect anything better this year because of the indices we have seen so far. But then we are prepared for the challenges ahead.
Nigeria’s border has been closed for a while now. How has that affected the production of the rice flour which is one of your brands?
The border closure affected us because we were using imported rice for our rice flour. The local rice used to be dirty. That was why we were not using it. But with the border closure, we have to adjust to the local rice. Right now there is improvement in the production of the local rice. We have to painstakingly look for white rice locally. It’s been a success. The difference between the imported rice and the local rice is the colour. But the local rice is more nutritious. Initially people raised issue about the use of the local rice. But right now people are used to it. They are no longer complaining. The quality of the local rice is also improving by the day. We hope more people will go into the production of local rice.
Some people complain that prices of Ayoola foods are above the range for the common man. How will you react to this?
That is not true. The prices of our products are affordable and within the reach of the common man. Many people think the 0.9 pack of poundo yam for instance is for one person. That is where they get the notion that it is expensive. The 0.9 gram can feed five people. The retail price for it is about N750. I think that is reasonable enough. And we must not forget that the product is produced under the most hygienic condition you can think of.
But has the increase in VAT affected your pricing?
There are some cost you can’t pass to the consumers. We have taken the increase in vat as part of the cost we have to bear. It is better to keep the price as it is. The purchasing power of the average Nigerian is weak. That is why we can’t afford to increase the price of our product for now.
You use Nollywood stars to promote the Ayoola brands. What has been the experience?
It’s been an exciting experience working with them. We are supporting them and they are also being supportive. It’s a mutual thing.
19 years doing business in Nigeria, what ways do you think government can support the food manufacturing industry?
The people in government don’t know what manufacturers are going through. That is why it may be difficult for them to attend to the challenges in that sector. Where do we start from? The roads are bad, there is no light, there is multiple taxation etc. It’s a difficult one for us but then we have to trudge on.
What was your performance in the market last year?
We had an appreciable increase in sales when you compare it with the situation in the economy. I believe this year will be more difficult than last year. But then we will survive and survive well too.