This is a story of a woman, who against all odds, has become a success. She shows the power of grit and determination to succeed in business, despite the many hurdles encountered while setting up her food processing business in Lagos.
The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Lagos-based Wandy Foods Limited, Ms. Gbonju Awojuyigbe, is one of Nigeria’s entrepreneurial success stories. However, her entrepreneurial journey was not an easy one, but she remains an inspirational example of triumph over adversity.
The 1992 law graduate from the Nigerian Law School, an alumnus of Fate Foundation and a 2005 Fate Foundation Alumnus Award winner, first worked with First African Trust Bank before fully going into business, leaving the banking industry for food processing business. In January 1998, she started with plantain flour business with N5000. But before she left banking, she had shown interest in production and the attraction defined what she wanted to do.
Her late grandmother advised her to try plantain flour production, which was one of the options she had before her. The reason behind the plantain flour was because of its health benefits. She first started with rice flour and later added plantain flour, bean flour and chili pepper.
Her first set of customers were her colleagues, who were buying everything she produced and their patronage encouraged her to supply supermarkets.
Gbonju’s food processing techniques now includes plantain flour, ground rice, bean flour, chili pepper, whole wheat flour, pounded yam flour and pure natural honey.
To boost her skills, she underwent various training in food processing techniques at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Success Digest and London South Bank University. She is one of the first to package plantain flour in Lagos. “People wanted to get it, they wanted to test it, wanted to try it and see what it could do,” she said.
To produce the flour, the plantain is peeled, dried and ground. The flour is almost tasteless because the green, unripe plantain are being used.
A sense of achievement with taste of success propelled her to undertake the production of ground rice, bean flour candy on a trial basis. The experience gave her the confidence to move ahead towards her goal of establishing a full-fledged value – added enterprise and since then it has been forward ever. She has taken up various types of products, using traditional recipes and innovative ideas aimed at getting special commercial clientele.
While quality processed products are in high demand in market, her strategy was to have diversified quality and value- added products. She has been very busy with her food processing business, growing her production capacity and employee base since she started the business. She recalled that she started with one employee, but today, she has 10 persons working with her, processing raw ingredients into finished food products.
Her value statement concentrates on utilising the local agricultural capacity for finished products , and creating food sources, which can be preserved long enough to be transported to viable markets, especially given the limited logistics available in the country.
She learned packaging and production techniques that will benefit her business for years to come in her industry. In addition, she is exploring partnership in processing finished products.
Not only is she providing the much needed employment, she is creating means to getting fresh produce to market. She is accomplishing all of these by applying the skills and knowledge she learnt to create a value chain and market delivery system to Lagos and other markets, making agribusiness more viable, profitable and sustainable.
According to her, starting a business is not easy under the nation’s present circumstances. She painted a fairly bleak picture of the current situation, but was optimistic about the future.
Startups, she said, have to keep even more balls in the air including power outages, funding and the like. Roads from the farms are bad, resulting in long delivery times. Credit, according to her, is a huge problem. Despite this, she is passionate about agriculture and wants to make it big in the sector.
The Lagos State government offered her and five other entrepreneurs hectares of land at a reasonable price to grow food crops. Huge investments are also needed. However, success would make her one of the largest food producers in a few years. Her passion to become a food producer of high scale is her driving force.
Realising that she may not be able to compete for long in the local market, Awojuyigbe has taken the bold step to prepare her products for the export market. The company was looking to diversify and was already operating a small honey processing unit.
Her story is an inspiration to many, demonstrating that entrepreneurs are high on imagination even if low on resources. At present, her firm does not have the capabilities to execute large scale expansion. But she finds it essential to map the needed capabilities in terms of assets, processes and knowledge.
Daniel Essiet, thenationonlineng.net