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Federal Government should grant tax rebates for SMES to grow, says Lola Adedeji

As the national economy groans under the yoke of Covid-19 pandemic that has occasioned lockdowns in all industries, small and medium size enterprises are increasingly finding it difficult and challenging to operate due to taxes and multiple taxations. Consequently, players in the sector have become more than ever concerned on the fate and future of their businesses. In this interview, General Manager of Amber Energy Drink Ltd, LOLA ADEDEJI, a serial entrepreneur enjoined the Federal Government to come to the rescue of SMEs by granting them tax rebates and curbing multiple taxations. She spoke on other industry issues as well. Daniel Obi reports. Excerpts

How do you assess Nigeria’s energy drink market where Amber is playing?

The Nigerian energy drinks market, is, no doubt, a very big market; it is one that can accommodate more players. Nigeria’s energy drink sector is a lucrative industry with market research fore-casting a yearly consumption growth of over 6.5% by 2022. This is slightly an increase in the 5% annual growth experienced between 2014 and 2016, which made the average consumption to be about 25.5 liters according to the World Health Organization (WHO) report January this year. The questions would then be who are you targeting and what are you delivering? So, it is the best market and I think that if you understand who you are targeting, where you are going, you will play perfectly well in it.

So, who are you targeting and where are you going with Amber brand?

We are targeting the man; woman or girl who understands quality; who understands what it means to have a healthy lifestyle.

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The market is very competitive; are you ready to play and, if yes, how ready are you?

We are ready to play. For us, we have done everything possible; we have even gone the extra mile to which many other companies cannot go to prepare ourselves. We have taken our time to study not just the market but also who our consumers are, and we have decided that every step of the way, Amber will meet the needs of that consumer. So, if you say it is competitive, yes it is. To ask if we are ready to play , yes we are. So, as we unveil, as time goes on you will see the wonders of Amber.

What do you perceive as challenges in the market?

One of the biggest challenges in the Nigerian market is that quality is not what a lot of Nigerians understand. For instance, for an energy drink, the first question they ask is “Is it cold? How much is it? Is it sweet? Is it bitter? These are their four main questions. On our part, we have taken our time to come up with the Amber brand. Besides answering all those questions it also nourishes the body. The challenge is communicating to the average Nigerian why this is the best option for him/her. That is what we have taken out time to study and find ways to get to them easily. Once they have it or they come in contact with the brand, every step of the way they are being informed about the good things about the brand and why they should take Amber as their preferred brand. It will take time; but we will get there.

What are the unique selling points of Amber?

Just for the lay man; let’s assume that you like coffee and you can have three cups of coffee and feel like you have had enough of it. But with Amber energy drink, you will have three Cans of it, and the total caffeine intake is equivalent to that of one strong cup of coffee. However, with one Can of Amber you are energized! We played with the caffeine level; we introduced Guarana which is natural caffeine. It will boost you naturally without being detrimental to your heart or to your liver, but it will give you the boost that artificial caffeine will give. Mind you, I am not saying that there is no artificial caffeine in it at all; but the quantity is reduced. We also packed it full with vitamins and nutrients that would help to energize your body. For instance we all know that sugar is an energiser but too much of it is a death trap; These are the things we took into consideration when creating a Can of Amber, such that even if you decide to take three Cans a day you are still within limit. It gives you a better taste; it gives you a lasting impression; the Can is beautiful. And it’s also going to meet with some of your nutritional and economic needs. But, then, I don’t want to give out all our secrets. But it will meet all your needs when you become a loyalist to Amber because it is not just refreshing you, it also builds your energy and gives you a better quality of life

What has been your experience doing business in Nigeria?

First of all, I would say that the Nigerian market is not for the faint hearted. If you want to do it you have to do it. With the Nigerian business experience I learnt that every challenge is there to teach you something; not that it is not going to break you down temporarily but you will definitely come back stronger. And over the years I have learnt that every time there is something blocked, when I go back and look at it properly, there is a solution in it. So, using this theory, there are many things people are scared of. Most of the time fear is a function of the mind, it’s not reality. That is how I see life. So, for me every time something shows up, I sit down and look at it properly. You take self away from it with business, self means emotions, because we all have our fears; once you are able to push past that, that means, nothing is impossible, absolutely nothing.

What is your take away from COVID-19, which would guide your business strategies going forward?

For me, it reminds me that emergent strategies are very important. Don’t ever think in your mind that the strategy I have is the best and will remain so forever. It has thought me to always think. I always think; but it has made me to go back thinking and to find details. I am very open to new advice; but you have to be more open because COVID-19 thought us that you don’t know until you know or you think you know. And you may not even know. And that at every time you should be willing to be fluid but don’t lose your core. When we began the year, we had a strategy. But oh with Corona virus pandemic, we said this is what we have. So we have to tune it to what is happening now to get the same result. So, COVID-19 opened my mind and I faced one of my biggest fears which is staying at home and not doing anything. I couldn’t imagine it. I am always traveling. I am someone that is so used to being busy. I travel a lot and in four months I haven’t gone anywhere. Even at that, I am a very smiling person who wants to be in the midst of people; but now you can’t hug and things like that. It also showed compassion for people. Even if I have been compassionate, I now have a bit more compassion for people. Now I pay closer attention to people, to my staff, etc. It opened up that human side that I knew I had but I didn’t know the depth of it.

Advise to the Federal government on how to support businesses at this time?

I think they should support businesses, by looking at tax rebates for Nigerian brands whether it is produced here or elsewhere but it is marketed in Nigeria and it is for Nigerians. For instance, Amber is produced in South Africa but you see if the federal government has provided us with enabling environment production in Nigeria is good. However, to produce the quality we need, certain raw materials which were imported from all over the world to ensure that every Can has top quality. Now bringing it down here, the first issue we have is with the ports, in the process of clearing, some of our things have been vandalized. So, it is safe to bring the finished products in Cans. Nonetheless, over time, our plan is to produce Amber in Nigeria at some point; but when I cannot tell you.

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