Street food business booms as unemployment bites

Sunday Goodwin, a 27-year-old Shawarma vendor at Fadeyi, Lagos, started his business in 2018 when he was frustrated after a fruitless search for a job.

Goodwin told BusinessDay that he had to learn Shawarma business in order to survive as he came from a poor background.

street food business
Sunday Goodwin, a 27-year-old Shawarma vendor at Fadeyi, Lagos

“When I came to Lagos, I looked for work for almost seven months, but I could not find one. So, I decided to go into the business based on the advice from my friends,” he said.

According to the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) holder, his business makes at least N80,000 daily, from which he saves N200,000 monthly and has opened another outlet this year.

In Nigeria, street food business has gained more momentum in recent years among young people as a means of survival as the recession experienced in 2016 and 2020 pushed more people out of the job market and into poverty.

More people now patronise street food outlets as many households have been forced to reduce the number of times they cook on the back of rising prices of food items, cooking gas and kerosene amid shrinking disposable incomes.

Victoria Isong and Mercy Akpan, who are in their early 20s, sell noodles at Ogudu and make up to N5,000 daily.

Victoria Isong and Mercy Akpan, who are in their early 20s, sell noodles at Ogudu

“We started it in 2020 when our previous jobs as sales girls were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Akpan said.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, street foods are ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and/or sold by vendors, especially in streets and other similar public places. “They represent a significant part of urban food consumption for millions of low-and-middle-income consumers, in urban areas on a daily basis,” it said.

They provide convenience for many people and livelihood for millions of middle and low-income people. They include Akara, noodles, Puff Puff, Shawarma, corn and groundnut, Suya, grilled chicken, small chops, and Asun.

“The reason why there are a lot of vendors is because there are no jobs and in a means to survive they turn to street food because they sell fast and require little capital to start,” Abiola Gbemisola, an analyst at FBNQuest, said.

Africa’s biggest economy has a large, vibrant and young people, who make up 65 percent of the population. But the state of the education sector and dearth of job opportunities have left many jobless.

Available data from the National Bureau of Statistics show the number of unemployed persons rose by 100 percent to 23.2 million in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 from 11.6 million in Q4 2016.

The number of unemployed people within the age group of 15-34 rose by 62 percent to 12.8 million in Q4 2020 from 7.9 million in the same period of 2016. Unemployment rate for those within that age group is usually the highest compared to other groups.

The unemployment rate is expected to increase as the World Bank has projected that by 2030, the number of youth needing jobs will increase to 40.2 million from about 30.8 million projected in 2021, as poverty further pushes them to seek work rather than remaining in school.

Another report by the World Bank noted that in February 2021, around 26 percent of the working-age population (15–64 years of age) were engaged in retail and trade activities, an increase from 17 percent in January-February 2019.

“This shift marks a key difference with previous crises in Nigeria, such as the 2016 recession that followed collapsing global oil prices, where agriculture was the sector that expanded as households tried to cope,” the report said.

Experts say food retailing holds the key to quick growth.

According to the World Trade Organization, Nigeria ranks as the largest food market in Africa, with significant investment in the local industry and a high level of imports.

Read also: Why more than half of Nigerians face food insecurity

Data from Euromonitor International estimated the combined value of food and drinks in Nigeria at N16 trillion.

On why consumption of street food is increasing, Uchenna Uzo, a faculty director at the Lagos Business School, cited the increase in population and urbanisation, affordability and lifestyle changes.

“People are moving towards more affordable varieties of food, and the interesting thing is that those in the food business are realising that they can actually meet people at the point of their needs by offering affordable varieties where and when they need it,” he said.

According to him, it is becoming more acceptable for people to eat on the go even while in traffic unlike before.

“Street foods are growing but they are types that can be consumed quickly on the go and within the price range consumers can afford,” Uzo added.

Kolawole Olokesusi, a commercial driver who operates with a ride-hailing app, told BusinessDay that he patronises street food more because he is always on the road.

“I usually buy Akara, plantain and potato almost five times a week from a woman in my area because I can eat it while in traffic,” he said.

Apart from the street food vendors, some fast-food restaurants, including Mr Biggs, Chicken Republic, and Sweet Sensation, have turned the streets into retail channels in a bid to reach more customers and boost sales.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.