As far as humble beginnings go, FoodCo Nigeria Limited, a diversified consumer goods company with interests in retail, fast food, entertainment and manufacturing, located in Ibadan, certainly fits the bill. Back in 1981, when Iyabo, Matriarch of the late Adegbenga Sun-Basorun Family, opened a small fresh food and vegetable store in Bodija market, located in the heart of the West-Africa’s largest city, chances were, she didn’t reckon she was actually planting a legacy in Ibadan. 38 years later and that legacy is redefining the indigenous consumer goods and retail landscape in South-West Nigeria.
Over the years the brand’s growth has continued to astound industry watchers and analysts. With 9 stores spread across the length and breadth of Ibadan, the company is widely acknowledged as an integral part of the Ibadan formal retail landscape. Today, FoodCo operates the largest supermarket chain in Oyo State and second largest in south-west Nigeria, outside Lagos. It is also ranked in the Top-10 supermarket brands in Nigeria according to a listing by National Consumer Brands.
The brand’s growth is especially interesting when viewed against the backdrop of the presence of multinational competition like Shoprite, Gamer, Spar and the likes. Add that to the emergence of other local players like Addide, Prince Ebeano, Best Choice and others who are springing up by the minute.
For the company however, innovation is the name of the game and the brand continues to leverage on this factor to position itself as niche leader. According to Ade Sun-Basorun, Executive Director, FoodCo Nigeria Limited, the brand has had to adapt to the changing needs of the Nigerian market over the years. He said: “The Nigerian market is a very sophisticated and demanding one and for any brand to survive, it needs to redefine itself to adapt to the changing realities of the market. We started out as a fresh food’s store and over the years we made the transition into Ibadan’s favourite supermarket chain tending to the needs of three generation of families. Today, we are a one-stop shop where you can not only shop for your household needs, but also enjoy fantastic meals at our restaurants and also enjoy the premium experience of our entertainment centers”.
But the brand continues to position itself to reap the opportunities in the retail sector. The Nigerian retail market is currently the largest in Africa, spurred on by an emerging middle-class household. According to the New York based management consulting firm,Mckinsey, the food and consumer goods categories alone is projected to hit a $40 billion value between 2008 and 2020. As an economic bloc, retail contributes about 16 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even if majority of the players within the category are open market stalls and kiosks that constitute most of Nigeria’s informal economy. A paltry five per cent make up the formal retail space. This in itself presents promising opportunities for the formal retail sector when compared against low levels of penetration, increasing urbanization and the entry of more women into employment.
According to Sun-Basorun, these opportunities, if well harnessed, can create a significant percentage of jobs in addition to feeding industries like manufacturing and farming. “For the industry to maximise its potential in Nigeria, there a number of structural issues that must be addressed. The first is around human capital, in terms of being able to have the right quantum and caliber of people who are not only excited about the industry but who can also could see their future in the industry and make commitments to it.
“The second one is around expertise. Given that the industry is nascent within the country, some of the specialized capabilities needed around merchandising, supply chain and even architectural and interior designs as well as constructions are all still limited. Frankly, these would be hard to solve. However, if we are going to grow as an industry and as a country, we are going to have to be able to learn from others and bring that knowledge back here so we have the expertise we require not just to scale the way other countries have but to scale differently.”
“Given that the year is 2019 and with all the technology available, we should be asking ourselves how we can create retailers of the future instead of just creating retailers that were created twenty, thirty years ago when a number of other countries scaled their retail industries,” he added.
To address the skills challenge, FoodCo recently launched a fellowship to build capacity for leadership for the industry. The FoodCo Fellowship program recruits interested MBA and Masters students and takes them through real-life professional and business training so they are work-ready by the time they finish their studies. As part of the training, fellows are set up in teams where they are expected to solve daily operational issues including team building, leading others, analyzing problems, communicating solutions and progress in both related and non-related fields. Seven fellows are currently in-training for the first batch of the program.
Speaking on his experiences, Temilola Akinremi, one of the beneficiaries, says: “The FoodCo Fellowship program is unique in the sense that it immerses fellows in the day-to-day experiences of organisational leadership. We attend meetings, are involved in decision making and are also rewarded for initiative. In my previous experiences within other organisations, students are essentially made to shadow employees or assigned to menial tasks that do not require creativity or problem-solving skills.”
For Precious Aiyejina: “The FoodCo Fellowship doesn’t seem like a regular internship. Other fellows and I were given managerial positions with important tasks to handle which is a great responsibility and helped us gain practical managerial experience.”
Sun-Basorun explains that the program had become imperative in order to train a specialised workforce that will drive the expected growth within the consumer goods category, particularly, to help it maximize its potentials.
He notes that: “As modernization and a population shift from rural to urban centres continue to stimulate growth in the Nigerian consumer goods/retail sector, the Fellowship program aims at preparing a complementary workforce with the requisite skills and disposition to harness the vast opportunities within the sector and transform it into a significant economic bloc.”
Seun Aderibigbe, business head in the Westville branch of the organisation, says that the Fellowship aims at making the consumer goods retail space attractive to top talent with the energy, knowledge and creativity to usher in the next level of growth for the industry. According to her, school visits are strategically planned to carry both the authorities and students along and to promote an atmosphere of mutual trust where all parties can objectively assess each other. Consequently, students who get onboarded into the program already see potential for a career there and do not merely join to fulfill credit requirements for their degrees.
A proudly Nigeria brand, FoodCo has been at the forefront of driving growth in the Nigerian consumer goods retail sector through innovative, homegrown, strategies.