written by Sam fadipe publisher spring news international magazine online and hard copy
Kindly introduce yourself for record purpose?
My full name are Samer Halaoui, but everyone call me SAM.
What is your designation?
I am the managing director of YAALI FOODS Nigeria Limited.
How long has your company been in existence in Nigeria?
We started our activities fully in January 2020, we where held up by the Covid -19 pandemic, but we can say we have had two years activities give or take.
How where you able to breakthrough the Nigeria market knowing how competitive the market is?
It was an uphill battle and it is still an uphill battle, but we took a bet, we noticed that most companies will produce and send direct to the distributors without any effort to to promote their product, so we engaged in below the line advertisements e.g we hired singers in the market we shared flyers etc we engaged in aggressive marketing, showing our products directly to the consumers. We started with an eighty man theme who did a lot of display of our products, we also did trade fair etc. We bet 100% on our taste, we where sure that for 50# the taste we where providing could not be matched , so we went to the consumers directly. no TV advert, no billboard or on line advert all we did was to go directly to the end users. It has been an amazing product and that was the strategy we used.
As a brand that has made so much impact in the market, how where you able to access the market?
We had up and down, we find out that our products which is the gari has season, some place will love it, some place will tell you that it has a lot of sugar,while some place will only buy the product for some period in the year, like in the North as soon as they start harvesting their casava, they stop buying the product. So we could not continue with only one product that is seasonal in nature, so basically the first year was an experiment just to figure out how our product will do in the market, so this is how we started to add more products into our package.
Let’s talk about your other products?
The first product was gari that came in coconut flavors and then the banana flavors, and after that we went into custard which is commonly consumed in Nigeria not as gari though. Then we started the milk, but there was a ban from the government, so we had to put it a side, after the custard, we had the oath and after the oath we started the coffee three-in one, and then we find out that the coffee was the rising trend in Nigeria. So we took a bet and started the started three in one coffee and also extended to the oath three in one. Though the idea of the oath was like that of the gari, we know that people usually buy gari and will add some sugar and milk, so we took the same idea of the oath. We thought of how we can make a good product that people can eat on the go, so we started making them in small medium and big sizes. The last item we added into our collections was the non dairy creamer, as a business man you have to be proactive, you have to always follow the market trend and take quick actions. When we noticed that the milk has been banned in the market, and the few companies that where selling milk where over selling in terms of price, especially during the EndSARs protest in 2020, we felt the pain’s of Nigerians they had hard times and knowing that milk is a basic item and when you have to pay dearly for it is painful, and so we thought about how we can offer a solution to Nigerians, we came with the idea of the non dairy creamer milk which is in the same family with the existing milk in the market. We could provide it to Nigerians in a very cheaper cost. So that was the latest addition to our collections.
Talking about availability, how available are your products?
Nigeria is a big place, so we had to take yet another strategy by taking advice from people, especially the people that has worked in Nigeria before us, like our national sales man who has worked in many companies before now, and one of our chairman who has spent 26 years in Nigeria. After having our board meeting, we decided to put all our efforts in Lagos which happen to be our base, though we put reasonable efforts in Ibadan southwest, but 80% of our efforts is in Lagos. along the line, after we spent one year, we discovered an excellent distributor in the North who is taking care of our products in that region. So today, we are present in Lagos, southwest, North etc. so the product is travelling, I will not tell you that the product is everywhere, we are still young, and you an still find the product a little in the eastern part of the country. So next year, our main target is to put more emphasis in the East, but we have so much energy in Lagos currently.
How about the south south?
We are considering the political situation in that area, the boarder difficult at the moment, hopefully next year we will see what we can do about that.
Your products are doing very well in the market, what’s your plan for the coming year?
We want to move a bit into snacks business, the idea is to provide snacks that is tasty, affordable and convenient for Nigerians, at least around fifty naira(#50:00) or less and it has to be delicious and pocket friendly meaning you can consume it at a go so we have explored everything in powdered form, gari, custard, non dairy creamer oath and coffee, so we want now to put a little effort into snacks. So we are thinking of coated peanut, we are going to try it for next year, and one product that is mixing in our collection is the Chico three in one, we have the coffee and so we need to have the choco, is an amazing product, and it will probably be ready in January so these are the two additions on the short term , we have many ideas on the long term,you know we cannot say it all here.
Let’s talk about how convenient is it doing business in Nigeria?
For myself,I will say that this is not my first time in Africa, if some one come to Africa and settles in Nigeria, the person will have problem doing business, but I grew up in west Africa Senegal, Ghana and as well as Ivory coast etc so I am quite familiar with the environment of Africa. What I will say about my first time in Nigeria is first I was surprise, I had two fears, first the security, everyone was telling me be careful in Nigeria, Secondly the instability in the economy, so out of these two only one was true which is the instability in the country. for security, I can only thank God, my biggest surprise was how amazing Nigeria people are, because you have to understand that even me as a son of Africa , when we mention Nigeria to Ghana people, Senegalese people, they tell you that Nigerians are ruthless, that the county has so many criminalities , but on getting here, you will meet the smartest, kind and hard working human beings. So the bigger the country, is the more you see the flaws just like the United State of America when get there you see a lot of bad things happening there. But because the country is big, you tend to notice the bad things more than any other country is Africa. The people I work with , my colleagues, from the bank to the market to the my customers everybody is sweet and smart. So it was an amazing surprise, I will like to say that Nigerians are the most or hardest working people in Africa. I will say it because from all the countries I have been to, Saturdays and Sunday’s are work free days, but if you come to Nigeria, your phone for Saturday’s and Sunday’s because people need to work, these are some of the few signs to know that Nigerians are hard working people, you have great entrepreneurs, businessmen and women here in Nigeria, everything is great about Nigeria.
Let’s talk about growing up, how was it like?
In over all, my family left Lebanon before I was born,the later came into West Africa Kongo Kinshasa to be specific, so I was born in Senegal and one year after I was born, my parents moved to Kongo Kinshasa, I think they did five years in Kongo before the outbreak of the civil war, they moved back to Senegal, fourteen years of my life was in Senegal where I did my primary and secondary school and later went to Paris to do my high school for five years, after then, my business life started. My firs working experience started in Kongo Kinshasa which was my root, so I did two years over there, Kongo was quite an experience, it made me tough though in a good way, so after two years in Kongo I got an offer in Ghana which I could not decline, though I was very Young at that time, twenty five years of age when I got an offer to be the general manager of an import and export company. So I took the offer and worked in Ghana for three years which I loved , I like to say that Ghana is a baby Nigeria, it looked a lot the same, but it is just small in size when compared to Nigeria. In all it was a good experience but unfortunately, the instability in the currency of Ghana made us to close down the business, because we where dealing in dollar and the rate was changing everyday, so after this experience in Ghana, I took a chance and I went to start a business in China for two years , so it was quite adventurous but during that two year, I got approached again with a new offer in Ghana to manage a soap factory which I accepted again because I love Ghana because in China, I was far away from my family, so I accepted the offer and went back to Ghana for three years . so after three year in Ghana, the business was successful, and we got an offer to merge with another brand, intact they purchased us and the new owners proposed me to stay and at the same time, I had a second offer from Nigeria, so I was hesitating because it was the hardest decision in my life Nigeria was all new, I was a bit Scarry but exciting at these me time. I knew Nigeria is the biggest place in Africa, I knew coming to Nigeria was an important decision I had to make, the people that proposed to me to come to Nigeria, one of them had spent twenty six years in Nigeria, so that was one of the good thing about the offer, I new if we are guided, Nigeria will be a good place to test my skill set, so I took my chance and I came here in February 2019, I was hired as the managing director of YAALI FOODS NIGERIA LIMITED, so from February 2019, I was following up with the construction work that was going on and getting to know places, I went to the gari farm, met the farmers, trying to get a feel of the country. So that was how I ended up coming to Nigeria and so that is all about me.
Are you marked now?
I almost ,but when I made up my mind to come to Nigeria, it ended because no one will follow you to come to Nigeria, though I will still take my Chance when time comes but business first.
So how do you checkmate ladies that come to you?
You have to be careful, and I will say if you have never been to Africa before, they will sell you the moon , so I don’t really get the chance to go out much, my factory being in Lagos Ibadan expressway, my house being in Ikoyi which takes an hour or two to go back home, so during the week I get exhausted , when the weekend comes, I only have little time to recharge myself, so I sometimes go to the restaurant to eat or I go the gin . two years I will say am focusing my energy into the business
the first two to three years are so important that I don’t want to invest it into my personal life, so I have some interesting story the good and the bad, but in all, it is always a good experience when you meet people here.
What is that risk that you have taken as a business man that when you look back you are happy for yourself?
This is a very interesting question, the first one will be coming to Nigeria, coming here, your success can huge and as well your failure, I will say that the little experience I have gotten in this country now, I don’t see middle players but I see small and huge players, middle players get stagnated over time, so is either you fail miserably or you succeed to the moon. Coming to Nigeria was a risk on its own, but I am glad I took that risk, the second risk I will say all our products are risk, but non of them I will say we wouldn’t have taken the risk. The other three in one is innovation
[12/23, 1:09 PM] Mr. Godwin From Joshua: The gari three in one is also an innovation, those are the two main risk we took, though the oath did not move vary well but the gari moved very well. We learnt some lessons from both the gari and the oath, and if I have to do of over again, perhaps I will still do the two that is product wise.. Another chance I took here was to hire a lot of young people that has not gotten to the end of there studies, so it was a risk for employment, but we don’t regret any of them.so that’s for the product and the theme . location was also a risk too as you may know we are on the high way, though it paid of , our location is between Lagos and Ibadan ,I will say that after two years of activities, it is two earl to count regret, we are still early in the journey maybe after five years I will have few more to mention, but so far, not too many regrets.
Looking at your success so far, where do you want to be in the next five years?
I will say first, to increase the range of our products to at least ten products, I will like to have ten good products to offer to Nigerians, that will be number one, number two will be to have another department that will be focused on snacks, through it is just an idea for now, peanut will be step because what we are doing is logically break fast meal and I think the snack is the future.
Interns of doing business in Nigeria, we have some standardization, how where you able to brake through to get certified?
That was the big challenge and we where not well advised, I used to tell the Nafdac officials when they come here that the country is complicated in every sector be it the. Immigration, Labour, Nafdac or Environment etc, you discover that there are so many rules to follow and non of these regency will come and advice you on how to go about it and they will only wait for you to make a mistake, also making payment is quite complicated in Nigeria, the system here are not the same in other countries, rules and regulations are the same, as the officials come to visit us, they will discover a lot of things that we need to modify and we will tell them no one informed us before now. but truth be told, they where quite helpful because they don’t come here to punish us rather they come to advice and on less you face them, you may not know this about them. though we have been punished at some point for different reasons, but currently speaking, there visit during the end of this year was good because they were happy with the current position of our factory. So I think we are doing well right now and we fully understand how these regulations work here in Nigeria. We now have the support of NAFDAC and the Ministry of Environment.
I can see you have a great fashion sense, what’s your secret?
I had to tone it down , I was a bit creative earlier in my life with fashion, but you know you have to look your position in business so much as to convey in the first impression, so i dress on casual than before, so I try to keep it simple, I wear shirts, jeans nice pare of shoes, but if I get the chance to go out, I will like my creativity to go wider. So I like beautiful things over all. like I said, I could not explore the life outside business here in Nigeria, like I said, as I get a little more comfortable, here in Nigeria I will like to go for shopping.
What is your favourite Nigeria food?
Gari is my favourite Nigeria food , I eat my product gari and sugar and Nigeria jollof rice and chicken, I tried the suyer too and my cook doesn’t know more than that.
How where you able to balance work life and social life?
Most of your social life in Nigeria is tied to business, that is the most interesting thing about Nigeria, the other countries I had been to, you will have friends outside your business, but here in Nigeria,the two are tied, your friends are your customers. It is interesting and exciting at the same time most of my circle are tied to my business so I go out to the restaurant with my customers and staffs like that,so in Nigeria, when you come here you have to accept that ninety percent of your life will be business related, though I speak out of ignorance, because am only here for about two to three years now, I still have so much to discover, so far this how my circle is also people that come for advert etc end up getting acquainted with me that we even go out together to the restaurant etc.
Lastly, recruiting the right people how challenging was it?
I will say it was a big challenge, but I will say we where blessed we got very lucky from the moment I started till today, we started with eighty sales men only few of them left because they where not equal to the task or they could be disappointed in us or the other way round. Eighty percent of my current theme are part of the first theme we hired. When I say it was challenging, is because when you want to hire, the amount of CVs you get and the locations of those who want to work are among the criteria you have to consider to find perfect men for the job so when I came here, I did most of the interview myself, we started with eighty to one hundred staffs so when the Covid-19 lock down started, so many companies let go some of their staffs, but kept ours,
so that gave them some sense of loyalty when they know that even when the situation are good, we will be there for them .we where so young when the Covid-19 started, but we still decided to keep the same products, the same staffs etc. It was a great move, though it was difficult but we got blessed with the right people and we are glad to have them, many of them are very young actually.
Since you started, do you have support from the government?
To be honest, we have not requested for any support from the government I know so many companies approach government for loan, but we did not take this rout, we decided be self sufficient and to minimize any loan we may take in the future , but so far we have not requested for any loan from the government or bank and we don’t have any dealing with them in that regard, when we grow we will have to, but being a young company and we are operating on our own is a sign that we are on the right direction.
What’s your last word for your customers?
I will say it was a rough start , and I will say to all my customers am very glad that I personally stayed and forth the battle because so many would have left the country when the going was tough, it could be the dollar rate, the ban from the government, End SARS , Covid-19 lock down etc we are very optimistic and we want our customers to keep dreaming about new items, about new business opportunities, for we are here to create new out of the old, let them be patient for we are still young in our journey and we hope to grow very fast,Thank you very much.