As the food industry expands in width and grows in size, Nigerians have embraced new food lifestyles including eating fresh and fruity meals.
This, according to the co-founder and CEO of So-Fresh, a healthy food restaurant chain, Olagoke Bologun, is why restaurants have emerged that survive on serving fresh foods and fruits/veggies.
Balogun gave the indications in Port Harcourt where So Fresh opened shop on Abacha Road at the GRA area of the Garden City.
The founder said when they opened shop in 2010, Nigerians did not know the value of fresh food lifestyle. So, the firm focused on awareness campaigns. Now, he said, So Fresh in Lagos has spread to 15 outlets around Nigeria, creating 160 direct and over 500 indirect jobs.
“Our people have now embraced smoothies, veggies, salads as part and parcel.”
On contributions to the economy, Balogun said: “We have a range of vendors, artisans, farmers, etc. In Port Harcourt, we have over 25 artisans so servicing the centre here. We pay taxes to the Federal Government and the states.”
Bimbola Balogun, his wife and co-founder who is also the executive director (COO), said taste and quality stand So Fresh out and that they are not afraid of foreign brands.
“We have great menu, and wonderful flavours to different age groups. Our brand is strong and we have many outlets. Nigerians have come to trust this brand. We appreciate that many people are cautious what they eat and where they eat. So, dealing with fruits and veggies makes people careful. For this, we have strong quality control system.
“We created the place to have values to customers. It’s not just to come and buy but to seat down and enjoy amazing dining experience. The ambiance is unique and hygiene, freshness, and top quality are considered,” he said.
He said the centres have additional offerings such as good ambiance to encourage outings and taking photos while one dines. “You can have your birthdays, meetings, etc here. It is comfortable here. That stands us out.”
Narrating his journey in the food business, the husband said: “My wife and I run this business and it stems from our origins and backgrounds in Ilorin. We have similar upbringing in Ilorin. I could pluck vegetables and fruits from the backyard. That was our life, but when we married and got to Lagos, we didn’t find them, so we tried to change the situation.
“My first job after school was in ‘Mr. Biggs’ as a supervisor. I worked for six months. It was a fantastic platform to learn food business.
“We started this business in 2010, and it was just to sell fruits and veggies. Then we realized we could do more, so we added juices, smoothies, salads, etc. We discovered people loved it and it sold better than the fruits. So, the business decided to pivot.”
On the push by multinationals, the CEO said: “We are a local indigenous brand. We know what Nigerians love and eat. So, we choose to go for Nigerian taste and palate. We then add international excellence, or more than any international brand
“People want value for their money, people do not care where the owner comes from; America of Nigeria. Its value they want.
“Come to think about it, we play in a unique sector. Our food is healthy, not just to fill the belly. It is natural and good for the belly. It is carefully selected, crafted and reduced. This stands us out. We therefore have all it takes to appeal to Nigerian customers.”
He urged the government to create enabling environment for businesses to grow because entrepreneurs are the engine room for the economy. “When government supports small businesses, many things happen.
“Government has to provide infrastructure and the enabling atmosphere. SMEs need relief, limit in taxation, indiscriminate fees, etc. Government should provide enabling environment for businesses to thrive. The government can also intervene. This is because we must feed ourselves. Government must thus look into the agric sector
“We are glad that the government is talking about state of emergency in the food sector and security. It is important.”