Nigeria’s promising food business can do even better if essential ingredients are embraced by chefs and all professionals in the value chain, culinary innovators have said.
They spoke at a Cooking Up Food Business Conference organised by BusinessDay on Monday, with the theme “Cooking Business: From Home Kitchens to Culinary Empires.”
According to 2019 data from the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigerians spend N12.5 million eating out every day.
Speakers at the event also stressed the need for strong collaboration among farmers, chefs, and the government to ensure food business sustainability in Nigeria’s uncertain economic environment.
“Infusing adaptability, collaboration, and innovation is key in navigating economic uncertainties for the culinary industry,”, Funmi Osineye, business and marketing manager at Nestlé Professional Nigeria, said in her keynote speech.
Food inflation rose to 31.52 percent in October from 30.64 percent in the previous month, putting a strain on consumers’ budgets and making it increasingly difficult for many to afford essential food items, with chefs and food business owners not left out.
Osineye dished out practical tips for running a sustainable culinary business. She stressed the importance of letting your passion be the main ingredient, keeping ears to the ground for what customers crave, and being flexible enough to adjust to changes. She also encouraged collaboration with people in the food business and cherish traditions while embracing innovation.
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Other chefs and food entrepreneurs at the event, spoke on how to work around various food seasonings to one’s advantage.
Bukola Benson, founder of The Chef Bukola Co and Guava Hospitality, noted the importance of teaming up with farmers:
“Culinary experts, chefs, and food production companies should partner with farmers to stay informed about seasonal produce. This year’s prolonged rainfall indicates the impact of climate change on food production, emphasising the essence of sustainability,” Benson said.
She emphasised knowing exactly what every season was about. Bukola noted that having precise data on farmers’ produce was crucial for sustainable meals. “Having precise data on farmers’ produce enables us to craft sustainable meals using seasonal ingredients.”
She said this allows them to make the most of what’s fresh and flavourful, minimise food waste, and allow chefs to get creative and experiment.
Also, Joseph Onchwati, research and development chef for Caraway Africa Nigeria Limited, mentioned that getting creative and changing the menu to the use of local greens and ingredients currently in season was a way restaurant owners could incorporate sustainability into their practice and cut costs.
He also spoke about the urgency of minimising food waste: “Achieving zero waste in cooking is crucial,” he said, “The first step to curbing food wastage is to have a proper menu. This helps you control what to buy and what to avoid so you don’t purchase unnecessary ingredients.”
Benson further emphasised the documentation of Nigerian delicacies to prevent recipe loss.
“Documenting our recipes and ingredients ensures sustainability and a legacy for future generations,” she said.
“Avoiding artificial replacements for seasonal items is essential,” Veronica Shoroyewun, CEO at Tola’s Bouffage Catering and Event, also said during a panel session.
“We need to collaborate more because some of the government policies are overbearing for food vendors,” Enyeribe Sharon, CEO at Sharon Foods.
Ete Asam, CEO at 8tte’s BarbeQ and Cocktail, spoke about the steep levies and tax food businesses have to face. He decried too many levies being paid, saying “you pay tax to Lagos Internal Revenue Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service, then levies to regulators-NAFDAC, SON. The business is not making enough, so, the burden of the cost is passed to consumers.
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Contributing to the wholesomeness of Nigerian cuisine and advocating for its preservation, Benson said, “Preserving recipes and passing them down from generations fosters sustainability and cultural heritage.”
Also, Anita Agu, CEO at Nitacents Kitchen, stressed the importance of knowing one’s niche to flourish in the food business.
“If you know your niche, people will take it up from there, know what you can do, know your strength.