FoodCo Nigeria recently inaugurated its first outlet in Lekki area of Lagos, after establishing eight outlets in the city of Ibadan, in its 37 years of existence. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ade Sun-Basorun, in this interview by Akin Adewakun, explains the reasons for the delay. Excerpts:
What is the significance of the inauguration of your first outlet, in Lagos?
It is an exciting event for our company. As you know we are 37 years old. And, we have, in a lot of ways, been part of the small group of consumer goods companies that has created formal retail in the country. We are also part of the small group that has created quick service restaurant in the country, as well. Both of them are parts of our offering, they have always been critical elements of our business. Our business has always been about providing customers their full range of needs, at affordable prices. The full range of needs focused on quality and unique products, at affordable prices. And that focus has helped us grow and sustain us over this long period of time we’ve been in existence. From the very onset of our journey, our mission statement has always been that we want to be the foremost retailer of consumer products in the South Western Nigeria. And we have had quite a lot to do to satisfy the needs of our home state, Oyo, so we have spent our time and energy, ensuring that we can service our customers there, well, and service those across the region. But you can imagine when you’ve been around as long as we have, you constantly get questions from people from all over that: when are you coming to us? So, we finally yielded to the many requests of our customers, around our coming to other places where they are. And we are excited today, to be opening the first outlet in Lekki, in this great city of Lagos.
But what attracted you to Lagos, ahead Abeokuta, Ondo, Ekiti and other South West cities?
I think it was a long thoughtful process around what really was the right place for us to go. You can imagine it was a difficult question to decide on. We’ve gotten our requests from all over the South West. So we have to look through a variety of factors before we came to the conclusion that really the right place for us to venture to was not only Lagos, but Lekki. We are quiet excited that we’ve arrived at that decision. We’ve been very glad with the welcome and the outpouring of support that we’ve received, both from customers that already know us from our time in Ibadan to the new ones who are just hearing about us, and joining in, and also from our network of suppliers and partners. For many of them we’ve been doing business with them for decades. And we are grateful, they have met this opening with excitement, and they are here today offering a wide range of activations to customers. All of that support really convinced us that our decision to come here is the right one.
But what would you say stand you out from competition?
Yes, I think for us, certainly, we’ve always heard a value proposition that focuses on providing our customers, quality and unique products, at incredible prices. So we focus first on delivering to our customers, top quality products. We do it, for example from things, I would say, were not common when we started, our freshly-baked Sunfest bread, which is our award-winning bread and one of those things that we do, uniquely.
We are also very excited that we have rolled out our entertainment centre, so that we can really give people a full range of offerings. People can shop, they can eat and they can play. We’ve got a wonderful entertainment centre that allows children, teenagers and ‘grown up children’, the adults, to all come and play. So it’s really a full-day holistic experience for our customers.
Your focus seems to be the South West, are you foreclosing the probability of expanding your frontiers beyond the region?
Well, we are a patient company, when you’ve been around for 37 years, you don’t think about one year increment or two years increment, or five years. We are thinking about long term increment. We are not in a hurry. We are focused on serving the customers that we have and service them well. For instance, we have been welcome to this community, and our immediate focus is to ensure we serve them well and develop relationships with them to hear what their tastes are, that we may not have understood, and come up with the offerings to meet those. And after we’ve been able to service the community, then we think about what our next steps might be.
How would you describe Nigerians’ eating-out habit?
I think it’s funny you asked the question, because we were already in this business before Nigerians started using the phrase quick service restaurant. If you have anybody who grew up in Ibadan and went to UI, whether it was in the 80s or the 90s, such person would know of FoodCo. Before we even had the term Quick Service Restaurant, we had been in the business of making pastries, doughnuts and buns, and all these snacks that we love to eat. We’ve seen the country grow from a phase where there was no quick service restaurant, and within a very short period of time, about fifteen years or so, to a period of a rapid rise in the QSR service. And now we are seeing expansion. In my opinion, it’s reflective of how our society is changing. People are getting busier, everyone is working longer hours, traffic is becoming more and more an issue. Frankly, people still care about their health, they care about their children, so they have to make adjustments and one of such adjustments is finding an efficient ways to eat.
Are you going the ‘capitalist route’ by making your debut in Lekki, a high-brow area of the city?
We have eight locations in Ibadan, and we cover the whole of the city, across various income strata. The intention is that we’ll continue to be a company for all Nigerians. I think this particular location can be accessed from all the way from Lekki to Ajah for those who work on the Island and are going to Epe. I believe this particular place is also well-suited and can accommodate everybody, because we are a company for everyone. And we had to pick one place to start the journey, but that doesn’t make us elitist or capitalist.
You recently came up with this slogan ‘Lagos Life, Ibadan Price’, on the verge of this commissioning, what is it about?
There is one thing that we are trying to communicate. Modern retail is relatively new in the country. Supermarket of 1,000square metres, 2,000 square metres with a full range of products that we have, is something we don’t really have everywhere yet. And one of the things that we’ll continue to do is to continuously increase the standards of our offerings. We are quite proud of the standards we are able to offer, both with our supermarket, QSR, as well as our entertainment centre. So when we talk about Lagos Life, what we are trying to tell people is that here you can come and have a high quality, premium experience. For us Lagos life is giving people a high quality, premium experience. By Ibadan Price, we are trying to say two things. One that we are from Ibadan, Oyo State, that is we have a history you might not be familiar with and which we want to share with you, and that we are proud of our heritage, and proud of our origin. The second thing that is communicating is the fact that we are all about affordability. What our city, Ibadan, can sometimes be notorious for is affordability.
Do you see the traditional markets giving way to all these modern shops?
I think 80 to 90 percent of trade still come from either the proper, or very small or a kind of semi-formal shops. And over time we would see modern retail continue to take very high share. But I think all of them are going to co-exist for a very long time. There is no situation in which our beautiful markets are going to go away, there is not a situation in which the little side stores are going to go. It’s going to be about co-existence of the multiple platforms, with the consumers having multiple choices, depending on what they are trying to achieve and what their needs are.