Five Opportunities in the Value Chains of Nigerian Food Business – Joy Ime Ennang, Founder- ZSS Foods
Let’s get to meet you. Please tell us about yourself and your background.
My name is Joy Ime Ennang, I’m 38 years old, from Akwa Ibom state. The Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operation Officer of ZSS Foods are located also in Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria.
Can you share what inspired you into your line of business?
Actually, this came about as a combination of events and situations which have turned out to be inspirational and fortuitous. Firstly, I come from a culinary background where I was exposed, quite early, to a uniquely hot and aromatic range of peppers, a taste of good oil, and how our Garri is made to be so dry it can taste crispier and stay longer. For these reasons, my basic expectations in foodstuff and spice quality and standards were a bit higher than usual.
I also love shopping for foodstuffs that’s one of my most enjoyable activities from a young age. So having to school at Madonna University due to distance and with many stops and switches of buses one has to make at different states; carrying big bags of foodstuffs from Uyo to Okija then wasn’t a pleasant experience.
So then I would shop for some items back at home and then shop for the remaining items in Owerri before boarding the last bus to Okija.
Also when my faculty was moved to the Elele campus, I did the same thing shopping in Port Harcourt, especially from Rumukoro.
This is where it gets exciting because this series of events led me to some startling and surprising discoveries and conclusions.
Take Garri for example, this experience of my travels and struggle to ensure I got quality to use in school, made me see and evaluate, firsthand, the different blends of Garri prepared and consumed by people along the routes of my journey to school. I found out that the Garri sold in Owerri market is not well-fried to dry so it doesn’t keep fresh for long and turns black after a couple of days while River’s state Garri is dry but not fortified with palm oil (Vitamin A etc) and it’s white Garri.
Akwa Ibom, where I come from, is known for yellow, dry Garri fortified with palm oil. For this reason, I realized that if I wanted quality, I had to ensure I got Garri from home whenever I go back to school no matter the stress. That presented an opportunity for business in my young brain.
In the case of palm oil and pepper (as further examples) this experience also made me discover what traders do in the market. The pepper sellers were, often, known to add colorings and other additives to increase the bulk and make more profit. This made the pepper lose its spiciness/hotness as well as aroma and flavor, not to mention the possible health disadvantages these additives have now been shown to possess.
The Palm oil sellers were also discovered to do the same in their own cases as well. So quality and safety were being sacrificed at the altar of profit. Needless to say, I had to both obtain my oil from home fresh-from-source and buy the pepper raw then blend it myself. This sparked another light bulb of business opportunities in my brain.
What finally got me going was that, apart from myself, other students and workers I came across complained of the same issues and confessed that they would love to buy from an ethically-minded supplier, even with slight markup on existing market costs; especially if their product quality, culinary experience and, of course, their long term health can be guaranteed. That was my decision-making point and that made me give the business a try in 2017.
As an entrepreneur, did you go through formal training or were you under the mentorship of someone? Kindly share with us
Incidentally, when I started Zss Foods, I had no formal training in food processing. The passion was raw and the desire to fill an obvious need by doing what I love, in an ethical manner, was the primary driver. In due course, I got proper training in food processing and packaging especially the right packaging materials required for different food grades, etc.
You know it’s a different thing to have a business idea and not know how to run the business the proper way. At least I was fortunate to have a basic knowledge of how to run a business from my dad but because of the bigger picture I had, I knew I had to get a Mentor, an accountability partner of which I don’t regret having them in my corner. They are definitely a boost to me.
The food business in Nigeria is believed to amount to US$218.10bn in 2023 and is expected to grow annually by 14.41% according to statista.com. What are the opportunities in this business value chain?
There are a lot of opportunities from;
* Improved transporting of farm produce to the consumers (market, producers),
* Food processing,
* Food storage (avoiding postharvest loss),
* Circular economy; converting waste to biogas etc
* Improved mechanized way of farming
As of 2020, the hunger statistics in Nigeria have been on the increase, can you share the role food entrepreneurs play in bridging the hunger gap between the rural and urban areas?
We educate people on the health benefits of the various food items we consume, how it’s important we go back to farming basic crops not just for personal consumption but for economic purposes as well. Entrepreneurs create and sustain the demand corridor between the producers and the consumers. This way money is circulated as there is a direct movement of farm produce to the table of the consumers be it in fresh or packaged forms. In this way. Entrepreneurs contribute their quota by reducing the rate of unemployment in their immediate society and the country at large.
As an entrepreneur what has been your biggest business challenge and how have you been able to solve them? Do you think the government needs to do more to support the players in the food market industry?
Funding has been a major issue. Apart from being a major requirement as we scale in business be it for procuring raw materials in bulk quantity to the logistics and administrative costs; access to foreign and faraway markets can be made easier by other forms of Government sponsorship e.g to fairs, symposia, and other forums abroad; where Nigeria and her rich food potentials can be marketed face-to-face to other Entrepreneurs to secure a piece of the Global market share. This will provide ripple benefits to the local economy in terms of employment and other growth stimuli.
I have also had issues accessing funds due to grant writing, pitching, etc.
Through the years though, in as much I haven’t gotten the kind of funding I need, I have rather experienced first-hand opportunities in the exposure of my brand and perfected the art of pitching & grant writing among others. This I achieved by attending various pieces of training that are required in the Entrepreneurial journey.
So, once again, yes, Government has a major role to play especially for us in the Agriculture sector. There is also the need to improve certain policies, access to funding, security, etc; for the Framers, Entrepreneurs, and other Players in the food industry. All of these will help improve the level of food security in the country. There will be improved mechanized ways of farming, improved transporting of farm produce and food processing, and so forth.
For people aspiring to get into your line of business, what are the basic skills required?
It’s not just about going into food processing, the major question they need to answer for themselves is WHY. What problem exactly do they want to solve in the food industry? Once this is answered then get to search for programs/trainings to attend most of which are free. Free in the sense what’s required is your time, data, and full attention to the training. This is the attitude that guarantees the desired altitude in anything one desires in life and Food entrepreneurship is no different.
Are you involved in any initiative that helps promote and pivot the business of entrepreneurs?
Yes, I am. I and a few ladies in Akwa Ibom state came up with an association mainly for women Entrepreneurs. Our motto is “Together we grow”
Our aim is the hold the hands of the next female entrepreneur through this journey, making them understand there’s a lot we can achieve when we walk and work together.
What should Nigeria and the rest of the world expect from you in the future?
In the future, they would affirm that Zss Foods is one of the few brands that has stayed true to their mission, which is ensuring their customers consume unadulterated packaged Spices, Edible oil, Seafood powders, and Herbal teas among others…