Deacon Paul Ossai is the managing director of Palosi Investment. He is an Animal Scientist by training and a one-time lecturer at the College of Agriculture in Edo State. He is also a public relations consultant.
He first came in contact with Ayoola Poundo yam when he was in Ireland where he lived for about 22 years. In this interview with Church Times, Deacon Ossai tells the story of his romance with the proudly Nigerian food company.
How did you come about Ayoola Foods in the first place?
It was the product I knew first before the company. It was while living in Dublin, Ireland I got to know poundo yam. I fell in love with it almost immediately. But when I returned to Nigeria I could not get the product.
I remember telling my wife to prepare Ayoola Poundo yam for me. She said she was not aware of such product. I was surprised because I thought it would be easy to get it since it’s made in Nigeria
Fortunately, I had a sachet that had the address and quickly contacted their Nigeria office. It was the DMD, Mrs. Natalia Olaye who picked up my call. She said the only way I could get the product is to come down to Lagos because the company does not have distributors in Edo State, not even in nearby states.
My first reaction was, why should I come to Lagos just to buy a food item? But then, the opportunity came for me to visit Lagos for a business transaction. I took advantage of that opportunity to visit the company’s office.
I met the DMD and we got talking about their products and how I first got to know about Poundo Yam in Ireland. She was the one who encouraged me to be a distributor of the product in Edo since they don’t have anybody there.
I said to her that I was into other things and would not like to be marketing packaged food items. However, when I got home, I discussed it with my wife and she picked interest in the product. She encouraged us to start with 10 cartons. That was about 16 years ago. A cartoon was sold for N6000 plus then.
I refused to bring out my money to buy the 10 cartoons. My wife had to pay for it. Then we brought the cartons to Benin through a transport company.
My wife would keep some cartoons in the booth of her car and I also had them in my booths and we were going around selling the products. But people were laughing at us and wondering what we were doing. Finally, we sold one carton after about a month and a half.
We did not get the money for the first carton till today. But we were able to sell 9 cartons after nine months which we got the money. I was so discouraged. I told my wife this is not business, There is no way I would want to go into this kind of business. But my wife who is a lecturer at Delta State University was not discouraged.
She said we should place an order for 20 cartons. I thought she was joking. It took us 9 months to sell 10 cartons now she was asking us to buy 20 cartons. But then we took the risk.
As God would have it, we were able to sell the 20 cartons in less than one month. My wife is the indefatigable type. We bought 50 cartons thereafter and from there we were buying 100 cartons and 200 cartons. Today we buy and sell trailer loads of Ayoola Foods monthly, sometimes weekly
What does this experience of yours tell you about marketing in Nigeria?
You don’t give up. You don’t get discouraged. The beginning may be tough. But you just have to keep trying. People are looking at you, they want to know if you are sure of what you are doing. They want to see your tenacity. If we had stopped selling after the initial discouragement we will not be where we are today.
So what is the trick to the huge sale?
You don’t stay in the shop and expect that people will come and buy from you. Of course, some people will come. But you have to go out to market the product and convince people why they should buy it. People sometimes want to be persuaded. When you have a good product like Ayoola Foods, it is easy to market. The company does not joke with quality.
You were a lecturer and also into public relations. How does your professional training tally with marketing Ayoola Foods?
Well, I left lecturing to go into business and other consultancy services. I still do some consultancy work. But what I did was to employ capable hands to help me push the products in the market. We have university graduates who handle the marketing end. I pay them well and I encourage them to go out and meet customers where they are. That is the secret. You don’t stay in the shop. Go out. Do promo. As a distributor, you don’t wait for the company. We also derive joy in marketing the products. That is also one of the secrets of our high sales.
How will you describe the acceptance of Ayoola Foods in the marketplace?
The acceptance is high now. It is already a household name. People know it. You can’t compare now, with when we started 16 years ago. Then, it took us almost two months to sell one carton. Today we sell a trailer load every month. It is a clear indication that the product has gained a lot of ground in Edo State which I cover.
Talking generally, how viable is the Nigerian market?
Nigeria has a huge market potential. But then it depends on the goods that you are selling and the community where you are selling them. Some people, because of culture don’t like packaged foods. They like the idea of pounding yam.
People like that need education because if you are not there when poundo yam is prepared, you won’t be able to spot the difference between it and the yam that is pounded with hand. It is basically the same thing and even better because poundo yam is smoother.
But the major difference is that one is stressful the other is stress-free. The fufu, rice, and plantain flour are a great addition to the company’s stable too. Plantain flour is actually in high demand because it is good for diabetic patients.
So, what people need is education. And God has been helping us to do enlightenment.
Read also: Ayoola Foods Where customers take the lead:https://churchtimesnigeria.net/ayoola-foods-where-customers-always-take-the-lead/
Can you share some of the recent marketing inroads you made concerning the products?
Recently, we took a risk and went to an area called Gelele in Edo State. It is a notorious area where according to the information we gathered, kidnappers sell their victims and from there they ask for ransom. This place is an island, it is surrounded by water, which means they don’t farm. But we discovered there are no farmlands there. We went there by flying boat to go and promote Ayoola foods, especially the poundo yam.
We told them since they could not farm to produce yam, that they could still eat pounded yam. We told them the yam had already been put in a flour form to make it easy for them and we demonstrated how it is prepared and how easy it is.
That day we sold 10 cartons out of the 20 cartoons we took there. Now we have somebody selling for us in that small community. The sales have really gone up. The point I will keep making is, a good marketer must go out and discover new selling points.
With the bad economy and the poverty in the land, do people still find it easy to buy the product?
I must confess, the purchasing power of the average Nigerian today is very low. It cuts across all products. But the edge Ayoola Foods has is that it is a food product that has the highest quality you can think of.
So when people are well educated about a product and they experience the product and find out that what you said about it is the truth, they won’t mind the cost.
In our case, we were able to increase our turnover because we did aggressive marketing. I cover only Edo State. But we go beyond Edo, like Agbor in Delta State and some adjoining villages.
What is your general impression of Ayoola Foods as an organisation? What other products do you sell?
Ayoola Foods is one of the well-organized food companies in Nigeria. It is actually the best I have seen as far as I am concerned. I am saying that because I have experienced the company over the years. 16 years with an organisation is not a joke. I am also into the logistics business. But the only goods I distribute are Ayoola foods. The customer relation is perfect. The incentive they give us yearly is good. I have to share incentives with my staff too to encourage them. It is a win-win for everybody.
When people hear you make a lot of sales, there is a tendency to say you have made a lot of money for yourself. How will you react to this?
That is true. But the money I make is not for me. There are several people working for me that have to be paid. At the end of the day, I only get a fraction. That is what people don’t understand. What Ayoola Foods has done is to help empower Nigerians. It is not about the company It is about our economy.
Unfortunately, our government doesn’t encourage indigenous organisations to thrive rather it haunts them and places undue demands and levies on them. Many companies have been frustrated out of the country because of the pressure on them.
We pay our taxes as individuals and as organisations. But when they hear of big sales they take a calculator and calculate the money coming in as if such money belongs to one man. They forget that it’s a chain and that we are actually helping the nation’s economy.