I want to fill the gap in food processing industry — Gbonju Awojuyigbe

I want to fill the gap in food processing industry — Gbonju Awojuyigbe

I want to fill the gap in food processing industry — Gbonju Awojuyigbe

by June 9, 2015 0 comments

Ms. Gbonju Awojuyigbe is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Lagos-based Wandy Foods Limited, a food processing outfit. 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 going fully into business. In this chat with Financial Vanguard, the Goldman Sachs scholar tells the story of how she left the banking industry for food processing business and the challenges involved. Excerpts:

Why I went into agribusiness:

“I left the bank in 1997 because I felt I was not fulfilled. I had this desire to fill the gap in the food processing industry. My grandparents were big time farmers and one thing I noticed was that none of the children or grandchildren took to farming apart from me. My maternal grandfather had 65 children with many wives and concubines. He was a court clerk so all the places they posted him, he acquired a wife. So nobody is tending my grandfather’s cocoa farm as at today. That was what interested me. I began to ask myself why people were running away from farming and production.

Why people run from production:

“I have seen first-hand why people are not going into production. It is so frustrating for a manufacturer in Nigeria. Sometimes I wonder who led me into this business. I sometimes feel it must be the devil because production is so bad in Nigeria; that is the humble truth. You do everything by yourself; you are virtually all alone. That is one thing I pray that the new administration will look into. Initially, it was so interesting when I started about 17 years ago. It was fun getting grains and at the end of the day, you have flour. Then I would buy wheat and make wheat flour and wheat cookies. I would browse the internet, get some stuff and I would experiment. We were selling but right now, it is so frustrating.”

Going into business:

I started in January 1998 in my house with just one reluctant staff because I was still in paid employment. My carpenter came in one day and said his niece should help me. I said help me to do what? He said, ‘just take her’. I said how much will I pay her, he said don’t worry. That was how she resumed on Monday and I went to work. By the time I returned, I noticed that she had done one or two things that impressed me. I had buckets containing milled grains which I kept in a room. I noticed that she had sealed all the things in the bucket and I asked who taught her and she said she taught herself. She showed me all the cellophane paper she used to teach herself to seal and that was it! I employed her. She is now late.

“What happened was that I was working in the bank and then I got attracted to production, I told my late grandmother that I wanted to try one or two things and she told me to try plantain flour because not many people knew its health benefits. I started with rice flour, later added plantain flour, bean flour and chili pepper. I am also a bee keeper and I bottle and sell honey. My colleagues were my customers, they were buying everything I produced and that encouraged me to supply supermarkets, starting with Value Mart next to our bank and later started supplying other supermarkets.”

Why I chose supermarkets:

“I decided that my niche would be supermarkets because supermarkets in those days do not owe. You supply them and in 30 days, you get your money. Some even pay you immediately, some after seven or 14 days. There was no stress, once your invoice was with them, you would be sure of your money but that is not the story today. Things have really changed.


Awojuyigbe who has a certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from Pan-African University, noted that “patronage has been great but in January this year, I reduced production because of the economy. People were owing and unwilling to pay. Big supermarkets were owing , not that they were not selling. There are a lot of things that still need to be put in place in Nigeria. We need a government that will be very strict with small businesses because if you get angry with a supermarket today and go and withdraw your products, by the time you go back there, somebody else would have supplied them that same product, telling them not to mind you. We need a unified voice because most supermarkets in Nigeria are owned by expatriates and they treat us anyhow and nobody is bothered about it, nobody is complaining. Even the way they treat their workers is horrible.”


She named power, funding and marketing as the major challenges. “You are competing with big companies who go to the market and tell marketers not to accept your products. You know, before you can sell in any Lagos market, you must know the Iyaloja and Babaloja. The knowing is not just ordinary knowing, you will hold something like a party for them, spend a lot of money. So it is so expensive marketing your goods and that is why selling in the open market is like a clique.”

Coming to TIC:

“I had money at a point and instead of just spending the money on myself, I bought a warehouse in Maryland but when NAFDAC came for inspection, they said it was too small, I couldn’t partition it. So with some help, I got this place at the Technology Incubation Centre (TIC), Lagos under the National Board for Technology Incubation. We do not pay rent but they accommodate us for a given period. Although I need to move out, there is no cash right now. In fact, I have just two staff now as I had to lay off some. I am just doing the little I can, hoping that God will answer my prayers because they say it is not trying at all that is failure. If you try and fail, posterity will record that you tried.”


Source: Vanguard



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