Dairy products are food products that are made essentially from milk such as yoghurt, gelato, cheese and more. All over the world, people consume these products regularly, except for vegans or lactose intolerant individuals. Dairy products are made in a hygienic environment that is void of elements that can contaminate them and cause health complications for consumers.
In Nigeria, there are several different dairy products, even though there is very little knowledge about the brands that produce them and the details that surround the dairy business in general. However, in a live chat with Tolu Samaiye, the Managing Director of Melting Moments Dairy Limited, we were exposed to the intricacies of launching and running a dairy in Nigeria.
Tolu Samaiye has over eight (8) years of experience in management, business integration and business development within the food and beverage FMCG sector in West Africa. She has successfully built three companies within which she sits as CEO and actively functions in day-to-day operations, aiming to grow these companies into high-value corporations. Among her qualifications are her mini-MBA from IFC (World Bank), three certifications in entrepreneurial management, and other certificates that are focused on the food processing industry.
Here are some excerpts from the live session:
On selling perishable dairy products
“For anyone just launching this line of business, before stocking supermarkets or stores, do enough awareness campaigns so that the products don’t stay too long in stores before people get to buy them. This is because the storekeepers at the supermarkets where your products are displayed for sale might not be able to care for the products like you, the producer, who knows about the ingredients and how they are meant to be preserved. We had people at each supermarket to make sure that our products are in the freezers and that the freezers are always working. So you have to invest in making sure that nothing goes wrong with your products,” Tolu advised.
She stated that dealing with products that have limited shelf lives is a continuous learning process, adding that one can go as far as providing a store with a freezer for them to keep your products well preserved until they are sold.
When it comes to distribution, moving products from the factory to wherever you are supplying them, you have to consider the best way to transport them. In doing this, you should also have a contingency plan. “There are people that rent out their refrigerated trucks. You can arrange with more than one of these trucks because anyone of them could disappoint. It is always good to have alternative means of distributing your products. At Melting Moments, we also use refrigerated dispatch bikes. We didn’t know about these bikes early enough so you have to keep researching ways to make things convenient for you and your customer,” Tolu said.
On building customers’ trust
Recommendations or word of mouth, according to Tolu Samaiye, is the best strategy for building trust when you are operating a food business. She said, “Food is very delicate and the only way people would buy is if it’s recommended. Most times, people are adamant to try a food brand until they have been told about it by those who have tried it already. We went on social media and we looked for people [to] who[m] we sent our products, told them to taste them, [and] give their honest opinions about them. Basically, we sent out a lot of products to different people whose social media accounts we admired, we asked them to tell us their favourite and least favourite. That way, we got to know what would sell more and the flavours to discontinue.”
On the relevance of qualifications in the food business
In Nigeria, if you have a packaged product, it has to be approved by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC). “You send them your application, they come [to] visit your production site, [then] you send your business and operation plans and send your products for testing. They have their specifications for what should or shouldn’t be in a particular packaged food class. Dairy for example is a high-risk product because it can easily be contaminated. The testing for that is obviously more elaborate compared to packaged plantain chips for instance. Before starting any kind of food business, I think it is wise to have some sort of training, at least one or two months [of] training on it. You can’t learn on the job because people’s health and lives are involved; food contamination is real,” Tolu stated.
There is also the business side of things. Tolu disclosed that food entrepreneurs should not only focus on how to prepare what they sell but also on how to run the business. “You might be the best cook in the world but the worst manager, so if you know that you lack skills in management, it is advisable to hire somebody or partner up with someone that has that skill.”
On learning from past mistakes
The Melting Moments brand didn’t have everything in order from the beginning. “When we first started, we got our equipment from Europe. To us then, it was the best and it was a huge investment. We later discovered that the people from Europe got the equipment from China to resell. By the time we settled for a supplier from India and China, we realised [that] it was actually a quarter of the price of what we got from Europe. It is always important to do your research before you make a decision. Know the different options before sticking to one,” she said.
In terms of marketing, Tolu revealed that she thought people would automatically love the products because of their indigenous flavours and bright coloured packaging but that proved not to be the case. She said that entrepreneurs should make deliberate efforts to attract consumers. “You have to give them reasons to like your products. Marketing strategy is important. If you are not creative in that area, then find someone to help you. It’s a good investment.”
When it comes to distribution, the brand has learnt not to oversupply as well. “At the end of the day, it’s our product that is on the line. When the store exhausts the supply, we’d be more than happy to resupply.”