Most large manufacturing companies in Africa will import machinery from China or Europe to increase production. While imported equipment is fine in most cases, food processors may run into problems if they want to mass-produce local African foods rather than international dishes.
For example, there are very few options for companies wanting to purchase machinery specifically for maize meal known as ‘ogi’ or ‘pap’ in Nigeria. The powder is mixed with water to make an instant meal and is common in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of machinery poses a problem for manufacturers who wish to mass-produce a foodstuff that is mainly produced and sold by informal traders.
Tunji Kalejaiye, an executive at GraceCo, a Nigerian food processor and manufacturer, says that to solve the problem, he designed a unique machine to make ogi.
“I can’t just go and buy a machine for ogi, I have to develop machines in order to make them evolve. We are currently testing it and hope that in the next 18-24 months it will be ready. We are going through a process where we can scale it,” he says.
As one of the first machines in Nigeria to mass-produce ogi on an industrial scale, Kalejaiye adds that he may patent the technology once it is complete.
Diversification of the product line
The ogi machine is a key part of GraceCo’s expansion plans. The company was started decades ago by Kalejaiye’s mother, Princess Grace Adedayo Adefulu.
In the beginning, the main products of the Lagos-based company were icing sugar, cakes, cupcakes and popcorn. It then branched out into pounded yam, ground rice, and plantain flour. Indeed, over the past decade, GraceCo has shifted its strategy to produce local foods that are consumed on a larger scale like ogi.
This has several advantages, Kalejaiye says. One is that it eliminates supply issues when importing cake ingredients like colors and emulsifiers that are not produced in Nigeria. Exchange rate fluctuations also mean that it is difficult to predict how much of the budget should be allocated to imports.
“It affects the bottom line, it affects the margins. That’s one of the reasons we went into the ogi food chain because the majority of these things we can get locally, we have a certain level of control. But with cake, it’s much more difficult,” says Kalejaiye.
When Kalejaiye’s machine is ready, it will be one of the few large-scale ogi processing facilities in Nigeria. The former engineer says he will increase ogi production from 25 metric tons to 100 metric tons per month. The company currently produces the popular staple through a largely manual process.
The machine will also reduce the time it takes to process maize from five to three days. The finished product is sold in 25 kg bags to companies and 500 g bags to individuals who need to add water to dry cornmeal to make the ogi.
The main strategy to compete with small kiosks selling ogi across Nigeria is to ensure GraceCo’s product is better packaged, higher quality and cheaper. Kalejaiye says the machines will be a key element in making the company’s ogi cheaper than its local counterparts.
“With our manufacturing process, you can scale and I can get a lower price than the back-end manufacturers. It’s economies of scale, we can make it cheaper,” he says. The company is also investing heavily in packaging with plans to manufacture a single-use container that allows customers to microwave the ogi to create a ready-to-eat meal.
Apart from the domestic market, GraceCo has started exporting its ogi to the United States and the United Kingdom, where there is a large Nigerian and African diaspora.
“There is a lot of demand, we send containers every month. We have also received requests from Canada. Wherever you have Africans, they tend to have ogi, especially where it’s cold, because you can use ogi as a hot breakfast,” says Kalejaiye.
That said, the former engineer says the company’s first priority is to conquer Nigeria’s huge domestic market of over 200 million people.
Take on the challenge
One of the main challenges for GraceCo is funding, says Kalejaiye.
“The most important thing in Nigeria is funding. You cannot get funding for anything. For a company like ours elsewhere in the world, we would probably have people knocking on the door to help us take it to the next level, but here it is a challenge”.
He adds that the company had to take out some high-interest loans to pay for the equipment, but “didn’t have a choice.”
“If we’re not producing, we’re not making money, so it’s going to be a balancing act,” he says.
However, Kalejaiye is optimistic about the future and he says that if the ogi machine works well, GraceCo will think about mass-producing other snacks from staples like millet, sorghum, cassava and rice. .