Aisha Babangida, a graduate of Communications and Multimedia Designs from American University of Nigeria, is the Chief Executive officer (CEO) of Aysha’s Halal Kitchen. In this Interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, she shares her experience as an entrepreneur in the food industry.
What is your business all about?
Aysha’s Halal Kitchen is mostly about the sale of exotic new blends of our spices, we also do culinary arts training. I have the aim of revolutionising food condiments into a healthy, special, yet, affordable one to the average Nigerian.
What inspired you to start your business?
I am an ardent believer that food constitutes a major part of healthy living. Unfortunately, in the cooking process, a lot is lost, so our ability to preserve nutrients, while also fortifying with herbs and condiments will enable us get the best of every meal. So, my passion for spices and herbs materialised into my business. It’s amazing knowing the spices I specialises in making do not only make food taste awesome, but also keep the consumers healthy because of the professional touch. Some people have curative abilities to certain ailments and I used to take them into considerations while making my spices. In addition to this, it is not only important that I sell this spices to people, I want them to know how to effectively make use of them to get healthy, even while they enjoy the delicious dishes and that is what gave rise to my culinary arts training programme which I also used to organise for people.
What was your startup capital?
We complain a lot about capital in this part of the world and forget to look inward to what can be achieved with the available resources. This is not to underestimate the importance of capital, but you can always start from where you are with the resources you have. My initial startup capital was N20,000 for marinade sauces. From there, I kept reinvesting profit for almost a year until the business was strong to pull through market factors. One key aspect of my growth was, I kept on growing the business with extensive marketing strategies, especially social media marketing, our online presence was crucial to our survival in the early days.
A lot of people are going into food business. Why do you think people find this business interesting?
Food business is highly lucrative and can never be over saturated as different food vendors have different target markets. The major reason people are going into the food business is that people cannot do without food, it is necessary for us to eat and not just eat, but also eat healthy foods that will enhance our well-being. Apart from the fact that you can see the direct impact of your food, you get instant feedback from your clients and build sustainable relationships over time. However, not to leave out the income and profit aspect, food business is highly lucrative and profitable.
What is the number of your current employee?
I started alone until I couldn’t handle all my orders, I got two employees, and also part-time employees to help on days we are producing large quantities to keep up with demand.
When was your business established?
I started in 2016 after lots of researching and training with just marinades then I moved to spices in general and culinary arts training.
What are your expansion plans?
In the future, I would like to own the biggest spice shop in Nigeria which will become a household name, with varieties of spices, taking into considerations the health benefits of my spices on people. I would also like to have a physical presence in every state of the federation, as well as in other African nations. It is also a vision of mine to partner with agronomists and horticulturists, and see a possible way of growing our foreign sourced raw herbs locally without losing quality, thereby eliminating the importation step, and boosting production rate. I also want to expand the customer base by venturing into business to business transactions, where I could sell my products to restaurants and local food sellers both in the formal and informal economy.
What are the major challenges you have faced since you started your business?
The power supply has been a major challenge for me. Marinades need to be refrigerated always but with little or no power, the task has been very cumbersome. Sometimes, I will need to split them into batches, which tends to limit our production capacity.
Availability of raw materials, most importantly spices used to serve as a setback too, some spices are seasonal and they do create setback for the business because I would have to wait for the season to come in order to get them. Storage of the raw materials without losing their essence is also challenging.
Importation is another challenge, sometimes an order of internationally sourced spice takes a minimum of 60 days to arrive and we have to wait. This is particularly daunting because it threatens our market presence and no product based business wants that.
How do you think government can address these challenges?
It’s normal to want to ask for more, but truth is that the government of the day at all levels is working tirelessly to promote SMEs in Nigeria and ease of doing business, however there is need for government to help in providing constant power supply. They could also help by easing the importation process of raw materials for SMEs. There is also a need for them to increase effort into ensuring loans get to the hands of true SME owners that will make judicious use of these loans.
How many awards and grants have you won so far?
Although, I haven’t won any award or grant, but I’m highly optimistic that with the rate my business is growing, things are gradually falling in pleasant places and just within a while, when my business boom, awards and all forms of recognition will come.
What advice do you have for other young people that are interested in what you do?
Believe in yourself and trust your abilities, even when things are not going right, do not give up. It’s all about patience and perseverance and the will of God. The hardest part is starting, once you cross that hurdle, every step becomes bearable. No success story is straight forward, there will be challenges, victories and setbacks at every turn and the key to finish line is perseverance. There is no rule book that says because today, your balance sheet is in the red, tomorrow it won’t be black. However, tomorrow belongs to the strivers.