Nigeria: How this snack food company won over informal shopkeepers

Debby Lawson, founder and COO of Fastizers, speaking during launch of the company’s Nibit brand.

Debby Lawson, founder and COO of Fastizers, speaking during launch of the company’s Nibit brand.

In 2010, Debby Lawson founded her cookie company that would become known as Fastizers, recognised for its Fun Cookies brand. At that time, she was still baking her cookies from the kitchen of her sister’s Lagos apartment, predominantly selling within office blocks and a few neighbourhood stores.

Her then-fiancé, now husband, Gbola Lawson, offered to assist her in broadening her retail presence to the mass market. In Nigeria, this involves entering the informal retail sector, estimated to account for 90% of consumer goods sales.  This ecosystem encompasses table-top vendors, street stalls, and large open-air markets, interspersed with hawkers weaving through traffic. For fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers aiming to reach a broad base of shoppers, having their products with these vendors is pivotal. However, breaking into this intricate maze can be a challenging endeavour.

Gbola devised a strategy to reduce the risk for vendors to stock the company’s products. One Saturday, armed with several packs of cookies, he hit the streets. At a bustling bus terminal in Lagos, he approached a merchant and handed over six packs without requesting payment. He promised that if the cookies remained unsold by Monday, he’d buy back the stock. Seeing no downside, the vendor agreed. Gbola struck the same arrangement with two other informal sellers.

By Monday, Debby, filled with anticipation, called the first vendor to check on sales. He reported that all the cookies had sold out on the same day and he wanted to order more, but he didn’t have her number. When she called the other two vendors, they too reported selling out of the cookies that afternoon. “I was excited; I was jumping,” Debby recalls.

Boosted by the initial success, Fastizers began supplying these sellers with more stock, and soon the company was delivering three dozen packets to each vendor daily.

In 2011, Fastizers moved from Debby’s sister’s kitchen to its own facility. The company started reaching out to informal retailers at key bus stops across Lagos, using the same approach they’d tested with the first vendors. In a short span, Fastizers was supplying over 100 merchants every day. Later on, the company shifted to work with FMCG distributors instead of directly supplying the vendors.

Around 90% of Fastizers’ sales come from the low-to-middle income segment. These consumers typically use buses for commuting and purchase from informal retailers. While the company has a footprint in modern retail outlets like Spar, which the upper-income consumers frequent, these contribute a small percentage of the total sales.

Read our full article on Debby Lawson and Fastizers: How this cookie company cracked the Nigerian market