USING YOUR NOODLE

Nigeria 2015 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Deepak Singhal, Managing Director & CEO of Dufil Prima Foods Plc., on entering the agriculture sector, brand identity, and ambitions to become the preeminent FMCG firm in the country.

Deepak Singhal
BIOGRAPHY
Deepak Singhal, CEO of Dufil Prima Foods Plc., Tolaram Group, has worked for Tolaram Group of Companies for 14 years and grew within the organization through the ranks. In his career, he has held various senior positions including CEO of Dufil Prima Foods Plc, COO of Tolaram Group, and COO of Multipro Enterprises. Prior to his appointment at Tolaram Group, he had worked for Unilever, India. He graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta University, India in 1997 and holds a Chartered Accountant Degree. He is also an Associate Member of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.

Present in Nigeria since 1996, Indomie currently holds more than a 70% market share. What challenges have you overcome during this time?

We introduced Indomie to Nigeria in 1988, before we started manufacturing it as a joint venture between the Tolaram Group and Salim Group in the year 1996. The first challenge for us was that noodles were unknown to Nigeria prior to our arrival. There was another multinational player, who exited the noodle business in 2000 leaving us as the sole player until 2006. For the first few years, we did not turn a profit as we effectively had to create the market for noodles from scratch. We invested heavily in grass root activities focussed on increasing trials. By 2008 there were another three or four players and today there are 17 in total making the industry highly competitive. Today, there is a whole industry around the noodle business that employs over 20,000 people directly. We are proud to have created this industry, and moreover, it is not limited to noodles. Local flourmills, palm oil refineries, seasoning, packaging, carton factories and others have also benefited. We are fully backward integrated, with 90% to 95% of our raw materials being locally sourced.

Would you look to receive any government support or incentives?

We would like to move into the agriculture sector and are in talks with numerous state authorities to acquire some land parcels. That is one area where we would look to receive incentives. Agriculture is the future and should be subject to long-term investment. Hence, we would like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to make convenient loan facilities available, which would generate substantial employment in the agricultural sector. We are also talking to various agencies and are looking into whether Development Finance Institutions can help, although the first step is to obtain land.

How Nigerian do you consider the company to be?

We are a 100% Nigerian public limited company, and a home-grown brand. Nigeria is our base, but our market is West Africa, and we are also considering south and east Africa. We should ultimately be present in 15 African markets. We have developed our own flourmills, palm oil refineries, and packaging plants, as well as a seasoning plant, making for a total of 10 facilities today. And so, from our raw materials to our employees to our trade partners and most importantly our consumers, we are a Nigerian company.

Are you looking to bring special products into the market, or will the company remain focused on the noodle segment?

Noodles are the key driver of our business but we have also launched “Power Oil" brand of refined vegetable oil and “Power Pasta" brand of spaghetti. We are providing oil in 140 ml sachets, and 750 ml and 3.0 liter bottles, with the aim of replacing unhealthy, unbranded oil consumption. In 2014 we entered into the ready-to-eat snacks category with the launch of “Minimie Chinchin," and there are more to come.

Where do you see the next opportunity for a private investor interested in the FMCG goods segment?

We pioneered noodles and made it a success story; I believe that in the food category, a company with a unique, affordable, and tasty product can do the same, but they will require patience to build it up over the years. The supply chain and distribution components are two of the main challenges to be taken into account. Access to sales channels is not as in developed markets; it is difficult to reach the consumer. We would first look to becoming the largest FMCG player in Nigeria in the food sector, before expanding geographically and becoming a Pan-African player.