Nigerian entrepreneur spots gap for locally-grown vegetables and related products
We speak to Shola Ladoja, CEO of Simply Green, a Nigerian company which supplies the local market with fruit and vegetables as well as organic, raw cold-pressed juices.
1. How did you come up with the idea for Simply Green?
I’d always been interested in farming but I was more into grains: maize, soya, millet and sorghum. Later, I realised there was a gap in vegetable production in Nigeria, so I shifted focus from grains to vegetable production and my target customer is anybody who wants to eat good food. Simply Green officially started in May 2014 and I now have more than 30 employees.
I started the juice side of the business when I was unable to find any cold-pressed juices in Nigeria. I decided to make it for myself and didn’t think it was going to turn into a full-blown business.
However, the juices are a tiny part of our business. Simply Green focuses largely on agriculture; we grow fruits and vegetables for the local market. Nigeria imports a lot of fresh produce and we aim to reduce the importation of certain types of vegetables that can be grown here.
2. Take us through the production process for the cold-pressed juices.
Everything starts at the farm; we also have outgrowers who grow some produce for us. This sets us apart from most other cold-pressed companies; we know the source of our raw materials. As we are the farmers, we grow the ingredients used in our juices.
We disinfect all the produce and it’s put into a commercial juicer which gently crushes the fruits and squeezes out the liquid. It is then bottled and put into cold storage ready for transportation via refrigerated trucks to our customers.
With cold-pressed juices, you do not lose as many nutrients as with other juicing methods. Cold-pressed juicing crushes fruit and gently extracts the liquid content. With centrifugal juicing, the blade that cuts the fruit warms up and kills some of the nutrients – commercial juices contain fewer nutrients and oxidise faster than cold-pressed juices.
3. The company grows all the fruits and vegetables used in the production of its various juices. What led to this decision?
It’s always good to know the source of our raw materials and what we are offering our customers. Juicing is a very delicate process. As there is no pasteurisation, there is no way of removing impurities. It is critical that we understand how our produce has been grown so that when we juice, we are confident no fertilisers or pesticides have been used.
4. Where do you sell your products?
We sell via online and direct sales. For online sales, our biggest channel has been through social media, particularly Instagram followed by sales from our website.
5. How competitive is the industry?
The industry is quite competitive with many players but fortunately, Simply Green stands out as we are the only company that grows most of our produce. Our slogan is ‘Our farm, your table’.
6. What are the biggest challenges to be successful in your industry?
The intermittent supply of electricity in Nigeria is our number one challenge, followed by the lack of skilled labour and general infrastructure. We get fewer than 10 hours of electricity a day and the cost of diesel to run our generators is high. The electricity tariffs are also ridiculous.
Transporting items from the farm to the end users is another hurdle as we have to continuously repair our trucks because the condition of the roads is poor.
7. What mistakes have you made along the way?
I make mistakes every day but not having done enough research when I initially got into agriculture was probably the biggest. I had to acknowledge I didn’t have a broad knowledge and lacked experience. I was naïve and thought agriculture was about throwing a seed in the ground, leaving it there and it would grow. I soon realised agriculture was a science. I had to learn about the weather, rainfall, temperature and how to test the soil. I had to know about fungal infections and bacterial infections and what breeds those types of infections.
I travelled out of the country for summer breaks and found small farms where I could work for free. I gained knowledge and experience and when I came back to my country, I used it to improve my own farming.
8. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner, and how you overcame this challenge.
We usually don’t sell some produce directly to our end users but during the pandemic, business slowed because stores were closed and we had a lot of raw materials wasting at the farm. We started a delivery service of fruit and vegetable baskets to customers.