The Chief Executive Officer, Bubez Foods Limited, a thriving food processing company, Mrs. Ijeoma Ndukwe, in this interview with Nume Ekeghe posits that SMEs must have very solid plans and well defined long-term goals to thrive
Can you give us a brief background on Bubezfoods?
We are a competitive player in Nigeria’s food processing industry, Established in August 2012, Bubez Foods is equipped with modern, leading-edge machinery for the processing and packaging of raw Pap (Akamu/Ogi) and our product range is ever increasing. Bubez Pap is fortified with Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, Folic Acid, Niacin, Iron and Zinc making it an amazing meal for babies, pregnant & lactating mothers, the elderly and the entire family at large.
All our products are manufactured in a safe and hygienic environment, ensuring that the product is of utmost quality and complies with all federal regulations. We endeavour to provide our customers with the best value for money and to maintain the confidence our products have earned.
When did this journey start and how did you decide to focus on Pap?
It might sound like a cliché but really I was an idea from God. I was having my personal study and then he kept on this particular scripture for like a week (2nd Kings chapter 4 verse 2)and the amplified version says what do you have in your house of amplified value and literally transported me to my fridge and I could see the Pap. At that time, my sister who lived in Benin had a baby and would want to give her kids Pap but wanted something hygienic. So she would buy all the raw materials or ingredients then give to some lady who she felt was clean enough to process for her. So I just figured within a split second that I could actually be that woman to a million other people and that really brought about the birth of bubez foods. And this was in august 2012 and by next day or two days later, I was in the market with N200 bought two corns and that was how we started this journey.
A lot of manufacturers lament on the lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity and others, how has your company been able to cope?
I have not overcome all of it totally, it is a journey. It is about having a long term vision and goal so we are just taking it one day at a time hoping that everything would work and add up together. We have all sorts of challenges especially with the forex issue. Some people say we are lucky because we are processing a local product but there are things we still import like our sealing foil. Also, the company who manufactures our bowls have to import their raw materials so if they can’t access forex for raw material to do their own production it would in turn affects us and our pricing. So it is not something we have overcome totally but we hope, trust and believe that it would get better.
Why do you have to import your sealing foil?
We have to import because the technology we use for our pap this is because we do not add preservatives and additives. The technology we use is called a modified atmospheric packaging and the substrate we use for our foil is like a barrier for fog so it is an anti-fog foil which is not available in Nigeria. So we are left with the option to keep importing because we are big on quality and health.
Pap is produced via fermentation so we want to make sure that we control the level of fermentation it undergoes between us and the consumer.
Asides from electricity and the inability to asses forex what other challenges does you company have?
Funding of course; you wake up every day and you realise there are new innovations and new ways you can do things but all of these things cost money. From hiring the right talent, the right machinery, the distribution channel, everything cost money so access to cheap funds.
There are CBN intervention funds for SMEs. Has it been hard accessing it?
Well the criteria for accessing the CBN funds, you might want to go to the bank and have them give you that checklist and it doesn’t add up. It may make sense for some of the bigger companies but not for the SME’s who are struggling to get somewhere. SME’s wouldn’t meet all the criteria most times.
Your company has done very well for itself what would you say constitutes to why most SME’s struggle to succeed. What are SME’s major challenges?
The truth is the challenge would be that SME’s do not have solid plans and well defined long term goals and nobody wants to really invest in. if you come up to an investor and your plans are not solid enough to prove to the person that you have a clear direction of where you are going to even if not total at least you have an idea to where you are headed I doubt if you wouldn’t have some kind of funding it may not be loans. Another thing is that we in Nigeria are not very open to partnerships equity investments and there are a lot of other ways to fund a business but us small business owners want to own 100percent of nothing when we can actually own 5percentof something big.
Have you been able to access any of these funds and investments?
At this point, we are seeking equity funding and some part of it would be debt funding. Right now we are just taking it in our own strides so we don’t shoot ourselves on the legs.
With all these challenges mentioned, what would you say to upcoming SME?
I would say that the challenges are unbelievably enormous so you need perseverance and hard work to be on top of your game because only hard work enough can’t suffice. Meaning that if you are hardworking but you are ready to dump this idea and move on to the next. So you need to persevere to pull through and see that idea through. It doesn’t come easy; SME’s should give themselves a five year guideline. We are used to quick fix or quick rich syndromes so we hope whatever our business ideas are would begin to materialise and generate the kind of income without realising that it is a lot of background work such as your branding marketing, sales, customer service etcetera. It is all of these things put together that would help grow your business and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Any plans to export your products?
Definitely, we have started some mini kind of exportation and it’s encouraging so we are hoping to more in the future.