Entrepreneurship series: How to start Consumer Food business in Nigeria

If there is one business that can never die or grow out of extinction in Nigeria, then it is the food business, forget about rice import waivers or not, custom impounding food stuffs, inaccessible agricultural loans, Dangote owned food companies or whatever reason you may want to put up as to why you are yet to join the food chain, not only as a consumer. Even if you are skeptical of operating capital intensive and high risk end business of owning a food producing company, have you ever considered viable alternatives at the consumer end.

If statistics are anything to go by, Food is a major item that demand always exceed supply , in fact its a serious concern for all government agencies involved. Nigerians love food, and they like to eat well. The food pictures I see daily of Nigerian dishes has convinced me that Nigerians (I may be biased though) are the most adventurous when it comes to preparing dishes especially soups.You will be surprised that after the preparation you no longer recognize these foods when they are finally presented to you. You even hear such exotic names, you begin to wonder if they are still the same foods you know, you have probably heard of bean cake (Akara), African salad (Abacha), Curry rice (Concoction), Orange rice (Jollof rice), Ogi Popsicle, White soup (Oha soup), African yoghurt (Nunu) but I wonder why some enterprising Nigerians are yet to take the full advantage of the growing food industry and why some Bukas (local cafeterias, those that serve soups in which the oil, water and ingredients usually flow in separate directions) still exists.

Food business is a highly lucrative , after all man must wak (eat or chop). And below, I have listed various types of businesses related to food consumption.

Restaurants or local food eateries:

Iya Bashira, Amala Buka, Nooneys , Suchies or whatever name you decide to call your food joint is alright as long as you know what you are doing. The difference between a food joint and a restaurant is n the location, name and branding of the food business. Before you start, decide on the location, the kind of clients you wish your food joint should attract, the average number of meals that will be on the menu and the name. Choosing a name can be as important as determining the number of sales you will have. All these factors are woven together and should be considered carefully. Are you cooking for a selected taste- Chinese, Cookout, Thai, Traditional, Yoruba foods or Hausa foods? Or a class of people- Everybody, families only, Lovers, Couples, children? Is the decor for private meals or for those who prefer cozy settings?Is it for people taking a break from work or returnees in the evenings. Answering all these questions will enable you make better choices . This type of business when handled properly has the highest turnover because sales are made on a daily basis.

Mobile catering: 

This involves some sort of mobile transport ,that can easily be on the move like the ones you see in front of churches on Sundays, at Mosques on Fridays and major roads or markets. The owners of the business usually set up their specially constructed mobile food vans or containers . Foods sold in such manner include, ice cream, food packed in take aways, snacks, Asun(Barbecued goat meat). If you don't have the money to buy a food van, you can convert your car's trunk (Or boot as many of you call it) for the purpose of selling food at least for those days you will be doing the food sales. The car can be cleaned up for its normal activities during other days.

Another set of people practicing mobile catering are the mobile vendors or food hawkers, who move on foot as compared to having a vehicle, their major targets are highly populated areas such as markets, industrial layouts, school areas, garages or office buildings . This involves the lowest cost of initial start-up.

Caterers/ Food contractors

This is the kind of food business most people are used to, because many believe it yields the highest profit. Imagine having a food contract worth millions of Naira,or catering for over 1500 guests. Who would not want that? But they do not consider the prerequisite time it takes to build up the business, gain clients' confidence or even famine times when there are no events to be catered for, There are also associated risks ,sometimes a caterer's business can be ruined with a simple word of the mouth passed on to another. There was a caterer I knew in Ibadan, some started spreading rumors about her that she usually goes away with clients' leftover ingredients , food and drinks, maximize profits at all costs therefore cutting corners and has poor service delivery . It was found out that the rumors were peddled by some of her staff who felt shortchanged and wanted more payments. Whether the gossip was true or not, the damage has already been done, the contracts stopped coming in and she has been struggling to get her act back together. To venture into this business requires patience, right adverts and effective networking to build up quality contacts and referrals. Your target are wedding or event planners, companies, social hangouts and gatherings.

Fast food outlets :

Mr Biggs, Tantalizers, Sweet sensation, Domino's are some of  popular fast foods businesses found in Nigeria. It is capital intensive ,requires  landed property and specialised equipment. 

Specialised meals:

All you need is to discover the foods you are so much passionate about or highly skilled in, if you do it well, your skill will become highly sought after.  It can be Chinese dishes,  peppered snails, barbed\cued fish, small chops, Igbo soups, Asun( roasted goat meat), Suya (Barbecued cow meat). You can sit in the comfort of your home, prepare these dishes and people make orders, or you can set up a site for your business or even list in anyone of the online sales sites , it makes your job simpler and easier in terms of taking care of ordering and delivery aspects. However, it can take the form of having a particular spot or event that requires your specialized services and at certain periods like the Suya man you always find in particular spot or bar and usually in the evenings. Or the pepper soup joint you visit by 6 am . I have a friend who has the list of food joints and their opening, closing times off hand. Just mention the particular food item you want, and he will give you the location and time of the particular place you will get it.

Food equipment sales  and maintenance:  

These are people who sell  food equipment such as ovens, mixers, ice cream machines, kitchen utensils , they provide sales ,after-sales support  (Transportation, delivery and Installation) and maintenance services or  have links of those who can provide such services.  Just pay a visit to some major welders, Alaba and Eko markets, even Apapa ports to have an idea of what am talking about.

Food suppliers/contractors:

 For any food business to succeed, it needs basic ingredients and food stuffs, the supply of these items is a major profitable business venture. Have you ever considered the quantity of bush meat, vegetables, snail, pepper and spice condiments consumed daily in a major city like Lagos for example? Do you know that  not everyone has the time or  inclination  to shop at local markets, travel to villages to source for food items, even some major food outlets have all their staff occupied and will rather outsource to a food vendor?  Do you know bargaining is soon becoming a skill in high demand? You can therefore be the middle man between major food outlets and  local market traders. To start, you need to first of all, know and understand  the possible needs of your  clients, determine where you can get the solutions, know how to provide them and you are in business. With patience, persistence and good business sense you can be a major player. You dont even need a shop. But you need lots of integrity and honesty so you can get good recommendations and referrals as you progress in your line of business. You don't want your clients believing you shortchanged them, that's the easiest way to put yourself out of business. When one of my aunt was doing her ice cream business,there is a business man based in Ibadan whose company sell ice cream cones (biscuits) to major ice cream outlets.He only sell ice cream cones and trust me, he is made.  Pick one or few items (Provisions, cold foods,rice, eggs,drinks ) , scout for clients , have a delivery system in place ( You can employ a taxi driver that you pay per delivery) and improve on your brand as you become bigger.

Finally, for all this food business ideas to be successful, one needs;
  • A Space to operate
  • Capital: The amount varies  depending on the food business type 
  • Patience
  • Customer relations
  • Preparation  and delivery of food in hygienic conditions
  • Special licenses and equipment for restaurants and fast food outlets
  • and most importantly  your determination to make the food business idea work.

N:B . You can  graduate from any of the above mentioned food business to a higher scale production or venture into it from the start if you have enough capital and right feasibility plan. These include but not limited to farming (crop and animal), milling (rice, noodles, flour),  manufacturing and welding (stainless spoons, cooking equipment ) and other food related businesses.

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