Debo Adebayo is the founder of Tomi’s Treats, a Nigerian organic food brand aimed at babies and young children. Adebayo speaks to How we made it in Africa about the state of Nigeria’s food processing industry, the challenges she faces and her dreams of taking Tomi’s Treats to other African countries. Below are edited excerpts.
What was the motivation behind Tomi’s Treats?
When I took my child Tomi to Nigeria to visit his grandparents, I could not find any indigenous organic food to buy in the supermarkets. So when I returned to the UK, where I was then living, I decided to pursue the idea of manufacturing fruit and vegetable purées for children.
Describe the initial consumer reaction when you launched.
We receive a lot of positive feedback from mothers that their children love our products and we are steadily increasing our loyal band of customers. Adults too love the taste of the products and use it for health benefits to get one of their five-a-day recommended servings of fruit and vegetables.
Of course we have faced challenges because a lot of people still don’t know what our product is and the health benefits of organic food. Initially it was difficult to convince retailers and buyers. They believed in the product but they were unsure if the Nigerian market was ready for it. I am happy to say that after a lot of hard work, our products are now sold in all the major supermarkets across Nigeria.
Who are your target customers?
Our target consumers are mothers with young children who want ready-to-eat, high-quality organic food for their children. Our product is premium, so not all families will be able to afford it. We are working on ways to reduce our price without compromising quality. We feel that not enough babies and children are eating healthy foods yet getting fruit and vegetables into their diets early on in life is the best way to help children understand that health is wealth. Our aim is to make Tomi’s Treats affordable to everyone.
How would you describe the food processing sector in Nigeria?
It is very exciting right now. We have a big entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria. We have major companies that have been around for many years and dominate the market, but we also have some fantastic new brands coming up every day. With the slump in oil prices affecting our GDP, there is a lot more interest in the agriculture, manufacturing and FCMG industries in Nigeria.
What challenges does the business face?
The current economic climate in Nigeria makes things difficult, especially with the constant exchange rate and financial policy changes. However, passion for Tomi’s Treats, and a genuine belief in the organic benefits of our products keep us going through the tough times.
Lastly, tell us about your future plans for the business.
Our long-term vision is to export to other African countries. We also plan on expanding our product line with new flavours and new organic products. We are currently in the early stages of building a manufacturing facility in Nigeria and we are very excited about the future of Tomi’s Treats.