Recently, BrandsMart crew had an interview session with Tope Ashiwaju, Public Relations and Events Manager, Dufil Prima Foods Plc. makers of Indomie instant noodles, below are excerpts from the interview.
Q1. Can we meet you, your background and career history before Indomie?
Answer: My name is Tope Ashiwaju. I work with Dufil Prima Food Plc., I am the head of public relations and events and often times I delve into special projects for the company. Prior to my joining Dufil, I worked in the banking industry for 8 years; I used to be in the banking industry. I work with several banks and worked in the corporate affairs of those banks.
Q2. It could be said that Indomie more or less pioneered the noodles market in Nigeria and the brand has remained afloat since then. What has been the secret?
Answer: Just like any other successful brand, I can tell you that there has been a lot of hardwork and which will also come with its own challenges but first and foremost we have seen ourselves (Indomie) as the wholly Nigerian company, a lot is been put into research and development to ensure that whatever is been done right now has to be in line with the Nigerian culinary and research throws all this things up. Most especially, if you look at our noodles compared to others, we have things going for us. Apart from the first noble advantage that we started first, and also grew the noodle industry while others are trying to follow suit in some of the things that we have done in the past, we continue to expand by ensuring that new ideas and new research in Nigeria is being carried out to ensure that we continue to give Nigerians that lovely taste of noodles that they deserve. I can tell you that growing the business initially was very tough because it was totally strange as it wasn’t part of our menu in Nigeria and we looked at it and said this is something we would want to compare favorable with the stable food like rice, beans, yam, bread and other food and I think we have been able to achieve that so far. In our industry right now, I can tell you that Top of Mind Awareness (TOMA) of the product amongst consumers is at its peak because most people are aware of instant Indomie noodles. We have also not relented on our efforts like engaging our consumers with so many marketing activities such as Below The Line (BTL) and Above The Line (ATL) activities and we have been able to do this perfectly. Despite the fact that we spend a huge sum of money marketing, I can tell you that there is still room for improvement because we have less than 40 million people who consume noodles in a country of over 160 million people; this means there is still room for growth. I think we are trying to achieve that with several of activities that we are doing.
Q3. With the entrance of other brands in the noodles market, what is the market share that the brand stake continues as the leader brand in African category?
Answer: The market share till date is over 65%. Just like you said, there are almost 17 players in the market today but if you ask people, they probably just know 1, 2 or 3 of them but we are in the industry, we know that there are 17 active players. As you can see, most of them maybe just 3 are major players because the other ones you find around are just regional players and they are comfortable where they are located. They leave a bit of what they can get around but we have other players that have that national outlook and we hope to continue to have more of the market share with the intention to grow the business to about 75% of the total market share and that is what we want to achieve.
Q3B. Talking about market share, if we want to compare the 65% of this market you have now and compare it to that time where you have almost 99% market share. Which will you consider as the most successful?
Answer: Recently, You will find out that compared to where we were when we had 99% market share, it was almost a monopoly as of then we were probably the only manufacturers of instant noodles in Nigeria. So, it was easier for us to do a lot of things and get away with it then unlike now that we have other major players in the market and the volume of people who are consuming noodles are more now compared to where we started with. We could almost say that 65% of the total number of people, that is Per Capital consumption right now is more than the 99% of a few people who were consuming it then because the Per Capital consumption is growing and of course the industry is also growing because when we started then, maybe one or two major players were available unlike now that you have almost 17 players and of course a lot of people are getting aware of instant noodles. Instant noodles is beginning to become part of the stable diet in almost all the meal across all the socio economic class. Before, it used to be a class thing if you are eating noodles and find out that it is almost like food for elites unlike now whereby both A, B, C and D in the socio economic class consider it as a staple menu for them. I think it is something that we are proud of because we started it and you can see the industry growing and you know that of course with continuous efforts and huge investment, we should grow the market beyond where it is right now.
Q4: Talking about growing and expanding the category, is there any deliberate effort by Indomie in growing the category without necessarily thinking about the competitors benefiting from it
Answer: If you see what we have been doing in the past and what we are still doing till date, you find out that it is a conscious effort that we have been sticking to plan to ensure that the industry continues to grow. People wait for Indomie to do certain things then begin to imitate them. Although, it is not an issue for us but you see, just like you have said earlier, the more the industry expands, the more likely we would benefit from it. For instance, if there are 40 million people consuming noodles and we have 65% – 70% of the market share, it means that the people consuming indomie will be 65% of 40 million. Now if we grow the industry to 70%, it means that by the time we are hitting 70 million if we calculate 65% of that 70 million consumers, there would have been a growth. Now, at what cost is what we should be looking at because of the hindrances and challenges that are associated with growing the industry because there are no collective measurement. If power was more stable, maybe the cost of production will go down and we would increase the marketing budget that we intend to spend in a particular year but here in Nigeria where we probably have to do most of this things yourself. Now for other people, they sit down and watch what others are doing. Some people don’t advertise and do any marketing related activity, they just pack their product straight to the market and say this is another Indomie. If those people sell 30,000 cartons of noodles, it may be a big thing for them but for me, those are not the figures I am looking at. The figures we are looking at is in millions, that is why we won’t rest on our oars or say because other people take some or little market share from us then we will stop growing in the industry. We need to grow in the industry so we can grow in numbers.
Q5: Is there any association or forum for the industry?
Is there any deliberate or independent campaign done by the association to induce growth in the market? Knowing there has been a lot of backlash
Answer: Unlike other brands, we ride on the back of manufacturing association of Nigeria. Aside from the brand, we try to ensure that people see the benefit that is accrued to eating noodles. Without saying the brand, noodles has been compared with other carbohydrate brand or commodities in the past and you find out that a bowl of noodles is healthier than a bowl of rice. The truth is that, it is made of wheat and can be eaten as a stand-alone unlike when you have a bowl of rice you can’t eat it just like that you will need something to serve as a supplement. However, we ensure that any time you garnish your rice or the protein you add to some of our food, you could always do the same for your noodles so it makes it healthier. Water can be considered as the best drink in the world but once taken excessively, it can become an issue to your body. We want people to continue eat noodles but at the same time, we want them to have it mixed with so many other food products such as egg, fish, and vegetable. All these things are condiments that are added to other food product. So you can also do the same for Indomie. Maybe, over time, different of manufacturers of noodles would come together to create a campaign but right now, I can only speak of my company as we have done several collaborations with food and safety authorities like NAFDAC, Nigerian Heart Foundation, Pediatric units. We begin to see that beyond the sales drive, the health benefit is something we have to look at because the food and safety regulators would tell you that there is a maximum level of salt hinted for a regular human being in which we are within the limit. Also, the cholesterol level is within the prescribed limit. All these things are what we take stage by stage to ensure that whatever is coming out finally from our factory is what we consider as the best for human consumption and we have done that till date.
Q6. What is that singular thing; the unique selling point that sets Indomie aside from other brands?
Answer: Great taste. It is very obvious that there is a great taste and satisfaction that you derive from Indomie noodles which is quite unique and different from what you get from other brands.
Q7. Is that taste related to the seasoning?
Answer: It is a combination of all. It is a different ball game entirely, from the dough itself, the way it is mixed, the way it is boiled, the processes it goes through, the oil you use in the seasoning and the way you fry it, determines the kind of block of noodles you get. So you can’t totally separate the block from the seasoning. So for us it is a combination of all.
Q8. Indomie in the last few years have been very active in activities but the brand seemed to have slowed down, what do you think can be responsible for that?
Answer: Nigerians have to realize one thing that there is so much benefit in giving most especially giving back to the society in which you make some of this money from. Although, we are yet to formulate a policy that makes it compulsory for every company that operate within the locality to say this is the percentage of which you must do to the community which you operate from and that is why some company like ours will do a lot while others are doing little or nothing because there is no law that says you can either arrest them or punish them for not doing so. What we have considered is that, beyond the sales drive we want brand affinity and brand loyalty, beyond each time you think of noodles and you think of the good things that you are doing. Apart from the great taste, there should be some other things that would make you say yes, I want to be part of the brand. I am not saying that only the taste drives the volume but beyond brand loyalty and brand affinity and most especially the experiential part of it. When people begin to see and begin feel the impact of your brand in their lives and communities, it would then become something they can’t do without. That is where we are growing our brand to. Of course, it is the percentage of the income or profit gotten every year that is supposed to be used in CSR activities and I think we have done very well in that area and we are beginning to benchmark ourselves against the TELCOS and the of amount spent on CSR. Some of these CSR activities are known to the society and some are not known. We believe that whatever you do, you are not advertising it because you want people to know that you are doing it but we want others to so see it for themselves and say yes, Indomie as a brand has impacted on our lives. In a sponsored advertisement, you have the opportunity to put whatever you want to put, buy the space, but the effect is different from what you derive from the third party angle because it is a testimonial and it is more credible and that is what our brand desires.
Q9. Indomie has invested a lot in CSR such as the Indomie Independent Heroes Award, Donation of Science Laboratory Equipment to Secondary Schools, MSC Nutrition Scholarship scheme etc. How has these investments in CSR impacted on the brand?
Answer: Directly, I think it has done a lot because brand loyalty, brand affinity in terms of the experience, people see and feel the impact of whatever the brand has chosen to do for the community. For instance, the people we have given scholarship to study Food & Nutrition and Food & Dietetics, have begun to see changes in their lives. In those days, it was a thing of shame for a boy to be found in such class but things are different now because of the exposure and the way brands begin to encourage them, these people have now become proud of what they are doing. With this, they can now decide to conduct some sort of research in order to appreciate what the brand has done for them. Along the academic line, we would begin to think with the brand on things that will help the community. Over time, these set of people would be the one in charge of formulation of policies in the country that will be beneficial to the public.
Q10. Talking backward integration, in the past Indomie rely on importation for some of the raw materials for production but now with Power Oil and your Flour Mill as well as the seasoning plant, have you been able to achieve 100% in terms of local content in production?
ANSWER: So far, I think we have done very well in terms of backward integration but Nigeria being a developing country, it is almost impossible for you to totally say yes you have completed your backward integration to a 100% level because the component of the machines used are not manufactured here. There are still things that one need to rely on like technical partners to supply power etc. Asides from machinery and other components that we practically have, other things are done through 90% backward integration because the weight, plantation, oil, cartons, wrappers, everything that we do is done here but apart from the machinery and other component that are not made here, every other thing is done here. For instance, our flour mill is in Port Harcourt and Lagos, the oil used have refinery in Nigeria and the seasoning plant that supply all our seasoning to all our noodle company is here. So virtually all the backward integration that we have is meant to have done all what we are doing here and it will interest you that we are increasing in the agricultural sector to ensure that we have adequate volume for the oil that is required because what we have till date is not enough causing us to still import oil. So, it is a huge investment for us at the moment because we are talking to state government and we have required large acres of land and you know the gestation period from palm plantation is between 5-7 years so it is a long time for us to put so much investment into it.
Q11. Indomie has different variants and SKU, in the nearest future, does the brand plan on introducing any new variant to the market?
ANSWER: We will always think of that. Research and development is what throws some of these things up and you find the SKU’s we have presently in the market have gone under a lot of research. If overtime we come up with something new it will also have to tested and seen that it is something that Nigerians will love. What differentiate our noodles from the ones you see and get abroad is because it has been designed to find out what suits the average Nigerian tongue taste and that is what we come up with. Yes, we have so many noodles out there, ours is just very different because it is what the average Nigerian will want to taste. Over time, we would come up with several other SKUs but for now we still want to keep it not because of cost but because we have to test for a long time for it to come up the way we want it to be before we release it to the market.
Q12. With investment of the Factories in Otta, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, arethere any other plans for more Indomie factories in Nigeria?
Answer: The first plant we had in Nigeria started in 1996 in Otta and it used to be the only plant then supplying noodles to every part of the country. As expansion continues to increase, one would see that the mode of transportation in Nigeria is not where it should be so we felt we should have plants everywhere just like the one we have in Kaduna which looks over the North including Abuja, while the plant we have in Port Harcourt is what looks over Port Harcourt and the Eastern Part of Nigeria and of course, the Sango Otta factory overlooks the affairs of the South-West. Right now, we are positioned in a way such that any point in time, in the shortest time we can reach the nooks and crannies of the country.
Q13. Indomie is a successful brand in Nigeria and in fact outside the country because Nigerians in diaspora always long for the product, one would have expected that the brand should be dominating the African Market by now, beyond some presence in Ghana, why has Indomie not been able to transfer the brand’s success in Nigeria to other African countries?
Answer: Just like I had said before, there is a lot of work to be done. In a country of close to 170 million people, we still have barely 40 million people who consume instant noodles. This gap shows that there is still a lot to be done. It also means that there a lot of people who are yet to be brought into this category and there is a lot of hardwork to be done. There are so many regulations barring some of these things from going into other countries. Yes, we have done for Nigeria and Ghana and it is working perfectly well. We are even putting a factory in Ghana at the moment and we are also in Cameroun. Some of the places you are not getting the fillers from, it is not like we are not there. People come to say I want to take it to other Francophone countries but the volume has to be right for us to put that kind of investment. If you do an analysis and you find out that it pays you to move product to Ghana as Ghana being a hub to other West African countries, you would begin to hit the volume/mark to say it pays us to have that plant here rather than bringing products from Nigeria for instance. Don’t forget that there is also a trademark; the franchise on the trademark given to Nigeria is for the Nigerian market to going to other places will require technicalities beyond just saying as a distributor. If you come into Nigeria and buy a million cartons, you can take it to wherever you want to take it to because it is yours already but as a company for us to say we need to establish this, other technicalities and agreement have to be made, other trade partners should be happy with whatever you are doing and of course the investors, the owners of the business also have to look at it and say yes it is high time we are here. Other analysis is when the total population of Togo, Ghana, Republic of Benin and Cameroon is less than 50 million and you have 160 million people waiting for you to just start so it means that there is still a lot of things to be done right here in Nigeria. If not, you will lose focus and that is what we are trying to do.
Q14. The brand name Indomie has almost replaced the category name- Noodles, many consumers ask for Indomie even when they mean competing brands, how has this affected the brand?
Answer: There is a limit to what you can do when your brand becomes so big and people begin to make it a generic name for that category. Some years ago, the generic for detergent for instance was Omo. Although the name of the brand was out there but they were getting the figures they wanted. It is all about re-strategizing, you begin to do your normal marketing activities – product differentiation. You also tell people what your brand is, how it looks, how it feels so that even the average person on the street knows even from the cartoon or the colour if it’s not Indomie then it is not Indomie. There is nothing about the new Indomie because those are the gimmick the brands are using especially the small ones just to sell the few they have been able to produce in their factories. For us, once you have the Indomie experience you should be able to tell others the difference.
Q15: If you bring 50 people together to make Indomie, they are likely to make 50 different types of Indomie, beyond commercials, what has been the effort by the brand to educate people how to make Indomie noodles?
Answer: we have trainings from time-to-time for chefs, we also had a TV cooking show targeted at mothers and young Nigerians to showcase how Indomie noodles should be prepared. We also have a cook book which contains 250 methods of cooking Indomie noodles which we distributed free to the public. Nigerians generally like to experiment that is why we can’t say that there is a specific method to cooking Indomie noodles. Some people like their noodles wet, some like it dry, these days it is the minimum expectation we try to do. We ensure that there is a guideline that states that the noodle block should be cooked in boiling water so it won’t get saggy.
Q16: As a company, how to manage employee engagement?
Answer: it is a 360 approach for us and we have a reason to always thank God because in-house we go through lots of training every year most especially for the junior staff, middle management and of course the top management. So there is always training both in-house and external consultants coming to speak to them about brand management itself. For me, I believe that really happens from the moment you step into any good company, you should be able to see that thing that wants to bring you back, the way and manner you are treated or the way the employee talk about their brand you know if they are actually happy or not. If an agency is paid to do things, you would say the way you want your clients to feel. Now separate that from being paid and just get the actual feelers, just the buzz of the people, for us it comes natural and that it only people that have the Indomie experience that should talk about the brand and not the company spending millions of money. The Indomie experience is much better than the campaign as it says more about the brand and it is more credible to people on the outside because it is coming from a third party. For instance, if I put an ad in the newspaper and I say a lot of things about the brand and you probably go to a government secondary for instance, with a thousand people and you give them that Indomie experience. A thousand people with an average of 3-4 people in their family would inform them about the brand which becomes 3000-4000 people who would in turn talk to other friends which when multiplied by 4 which gives a totally broader outlook to the experience in which they have had because they have tasted it, seen it and felt it, which is important. It also relates to the employees because when they go home they would talk to their partners and relations about the Indomie experience. So far, so good, we have been able to manage that problem.
Q17: In the past, Indomie has been known for innovations, coming up with different new ideas, different new projects like the Indomie Heroes award; it seems the company is kind of receptive to new initiative, what is the reason for this?
Answer: we try to concentrate heavily on BTL activities to ensure that for everyone that has the Indomie experience is satisfied. Don’t think we are not interested in new initiative but you have to do something and do it very well, it is when you get to the peak that you can start to think about another initiative. A project that is not growing and deviate by putting others on the border you end loosing focus and because you also don’t have inexhaustible funds you have to plan along, you have to create a budget with what you have and drive it to the fullest. Of course, here and there once you see something that is interesting and we feel we can make do with it. We would be interested in welcoming people who think along with the brand even though it would be come with a cost. If there are no returns for the company, there is no need to fund or sponsor some initiatives.