VINCENT EGBE is GBfoods Nigeria’s country manager. In this interview with Odinaka Anudu, Egbe talks about the company’s N20 billion fully integrated tomato processing factory in Nigeria, support from governments and host communities, job creation and future plans of the company.
Tell us about GBfoods and your role in the company?
We are part of GBfoods Africa, which is owned by GBfoods Europe (a large Spanish foods group) and Helios Investment Partners (a Nigerian-owned private equity firm, based in London, with over $3billion in assets under management).
Since inception about 83 years ago, “celebrating local flavours” has remained our key driving force. Through tasty and authentic food with a local touch, we have ensured that families in over 50 countries including Nigeria share memorable moments around good food.
When did you enter the Nigerian market?
GBfoods has been doing business in Africa for over 40 years and our brands have been in the Nigerian market for over 20 years.
What are your main product offerings?
Our main product offerings cut across taste enhancers, tomato pastes, food dressing and spreads. The key brands of the company in Nigeria include: Gino, Bama and Jago. Under these brands, we manufacture a wide range of top quality products that make the lives of many Nigerian families easier. Products under our brands include Gino Tomatoes Mix, Gino Pepper Onion, Gino Thyme, Gino Curry, Gino Chicken and Beef Cubes. Others are Bama Mayonnaise and Jago Mayonnaise. These products meet local culinary tastes and offer the best-in-class and healthy ingredients for the Nigerian cuisine.
You recently committed N20bn to building a fully integrated tomato processing plant in Nigeria. Tell us more about the plant.
A tomato processing plant is where fresh tomatoes are converted into various other products besides using them as vegetables. This involves products like tomato concentrate which is a key component for manufacturing tomato paste, and ketchup which we use in our daily meals.
Fully integrated plants like the one we have in Kebbi State usually house a tomato processing factory and an industrial tomato farm. An industrial farm would usually include drip irrigation systems, greenhouses, drip fertigation infrastructure, seeding robots, seedlings incubation chamber and agricultural machinery.
Why did GBfoods make this commitment and how will it impact the tomato needs in Nigeria?
We identified a challenge and saw the need to address it. Nigeria is the largest producer of tomato in sub-Saharan Africa, responsible for 65 percent of tomatoes grown in West Africa, yet remains the largest global importer of tomato concentrate due to the absence of tomato processing factories in the country. GBfoods’ tomato processing factory will see that tomato is produced and processed locally while local talents and expertise are employed. We will also ensure that the estimated 1.35 million tons of fresh tomatoes wasted each year are put to productive use.
Our factory is the second largest processing plant in Nigeria. It is the only fully integrated plant in ECOWAS – where the factory is fully backward integrated to our farm and dedicated out-growers. The output of the factory is expected to cover some of GBfoods Nigeria’s concentrate processing needs. As we expand the farm, we expect to produce enough concentrate to meet our needs and supply other packaging companies or even export.
What was your criterion for choosing the location of the farm and the factory?
A key decider for the location was the fact that we needed a land with access to a constant source of water, enough to run an industrial farm sited on thousands hectares. We settled in Ngaski Local Government Area in Yauri Emirate because the land site is close to the river.
The farm is where we grow and harvest fresh tomatoes and it is responsible for a majority of the tomatoes used in production. The rest will come from smallholder farmers operating as out growers. The factory is where fresh tomatoes are processed into tomato concentrate used in producing the tomato paste we use in our kitchens.
Who are your partners?
We have had tremendous support from the CBN as well as the Federal Government of Nigeria, Kebbi State Government, and the Emir of Yauri – for all of which we are deeply grateful.
What kind of support did you receive from your partners, especially the government?
The CBN, and in particular, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, has been very supportive in encouraging us and helping engage ministries, departments and agencies to reduce bottlenecks that might cause delays. Furthermore, we successfully applied for and obtained CBN intervention funds.
The Ministries of Agriculture & Rural Development; Industry, Trade & Investments; and Finance, Budget & National Planning have been extremely supportive. We thank the respective ministers and ministries for their support.
We are also grateful to the Kebbi State government for leasing us land for the project and Governor Atiku Abubakar Bagudu for hosting our project. We also appreciate the host communities, especially the Emir of Yauri and the Ngaski Local Government authorities who have been helpful.
Your Tomato farm is one of the largest in West Africa. What does this mean to the company and its purpose?
Our purpose is to celebrate local flavours. Growing tomatoes in Nigeria gives us authenticity. We are producing a product that is proudly Nigerian – that empowers Nigerians economically and physically. We are a neighbourhood company in close proximity to its consumers. A good neighbour works for the benefit of the neighbourhood, as we call it GBhood, (GBfoods+Neighbourhood). When consumers consume our produce, they consume what is produced in their neighbourhood. The close proximity, as I mentioned earlier, we hope will engender a lot of joy and ownership in our consumers in all our markets, but more especially, Nigeria, our largest African market.
This project also shows that with commitment and determination as well as government support and encouragement, companies like GBfoods, with good intentions, can achieve a lot in Nigeria and Africa at large.
How do you source your tomatoes?
Our tomatoes are sourced from our farm and out-growers (smallholder farmers) who grow the tomatoes on their own farms. We partnered with out-growers for the 2019/20 season. We will continue to do so in the 2020/21 season and beyond, during which we will engage over 5,000 smallholder farmers as out growers.
How have you equipped the farmers? How many jobs has the initiative created?
We have provided the farmers with seedlings from our greenhouses, plastic crates, water pumps, water hose pipes, and trained them on good agricultural practices. So far, we have created about 500 farming jobs, 150 factory jobs, 100 out-growers’ jobs, and, 150 construction jobs.
You successfully completed the factory during the COVID-19 lockdown. What challenges did you face?
The pandemic has continued to have an adverse impact on us. A lot of the technical work that is done on the farm requires support from technical expats from Spain and Italy. Owing to lockdowns and travel restrictions, these key staff could not travel. This delayed the successful completion of the factory and we lost some crops as the factory was not fully ready when the first set of tomatoes was harvested. Crops also got damaged especially by early rains.
We want to expand our factory and farm operations – but these ambitions may be slowed down because the manufacturers that make these equipment and machinery in Europe have been shut down and will take time to re-open and clear the backlog of items in their order book.
How have you managed the host communities?
Our gratitude to our communities cannot be over-emphasised. For this reason, we have embarked on initiatives to help these communities. We have provided 16 boreholes for drinking water to all the villages around our farm/factory in Kebbi and fenced the graveyard where the community inter their deceased relatives.
We understand the importance the host communities play in the journey of organisations and this is why we gear our efforts towards proactive measures to help these communities thrive by conducting a study on the community needs to determine how we can further support the locals within the neighbourhood of our farm.
Will Nigeria become self-sufficient in tomato production – fresh and concentrate?
Yes, it will, not overnight, however. It took China, Italy, Spain, Turkey and USA over ten years to attain the height they have in tomato processing today— a yield of over 80 metric ton/ha. It may take Nigeria approximately 10 years or less to build the agronomic and technical capacity to get to that level of efficiency if focus, government support and determination come to bear.
What are your expansion plans for factory and farm in Nigeria?
We have plans to invest in more farmlands and expand our factory capacity. And as we expand, we project that the additional jobs to be created will be around 1,500 farming jobs, 300-500 factory jobs, 5,000 out-growers’ farmers, as well as 500 construction jobs.