Uche Ezeozue and Minso Wathanafa have been friends since their days at King’s College, Lagos. Upon graduation in 2000, they proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the University of Maiduguri respectively to study law.
Both went to the United Kingdom for their postgraduate degrees -- Uche graduating with a master’s degree in Commercial and Corporate Law from Queen Mary University of London, while Minso bagged a master’s in Maritime Law from the University of Swansea, Wales.
Expectedly, both dreamt of white-collar jobs -and they got them. Uche wanted to be an investment banker but ended up at an oil firm in Lagos and Minso was practising law and real estate management in Abuja.
Then, something happened: Uche came up with a weird business idea.
Facebook: Golnar Foods
Minso explained how it all began: “I know you may find this surprising especially because I am from the North, but it was actually Uche’s idea. I was busy with my real estate practice before Uche briefed me on the business opportunity. I saw potential in the kilishi business and became interested.”
For starters, kilishi is a dehydrated and spiced meat snack made in the northern part of the country and popular among travelers.
How did Uche come up with the idea of kilishi business? He said: “Kilishi is a well-loved snack and every time I went to visit my family in Abuja, the number one request I got from my friends in Lagos was kilishi. It didn't make sense to me that you couldn't find kilishi in the supermarkets and had to wait for someone coming back from the North to fulfil your desire. I went to all the major stores in Lagos and I noticed there was no well-packaged, NAFDAC-approved kilishi available. The few brands available in some of the smaller stores were poorly packaged and could not be trusted. I knew I could do better in terms of quality and packaging, so I decided to explore the opportunity.”
"The few brands (of kilishi) available in some of the smaller stores were poorly packaged and could not be trusted. I knew I could do better in terms of quality and packaging, so I decided to explore the opportunity"
Kilishi, is often produced manually under very poor hygienic conditions: wrapped in old newspapers and almost certainly supplied by travelers returning from the northern part of the country.
But Golnar Foods, the company set up by Uche and Minso, is changing all that.
Uche was emphatic about the value they’re adding: “We are NAFDAC-approved and our kilishi is hygienically produced in our purpose-built facility. It is well-packaged in food grade pouches, properly labelled with all the required information and is available in Shoprite, Spar and most other major stores in Lagos and Abuja. We intend to roll out nationwide very soon.”
Purpose-built factory for kilishi? Yes. It’s a modest facility with lots of room for expansion, but it actually started in Uche’s kitchen. “A friend introduced me to a supplier and I ordered some nice-looking plastic containers from the US to package the kilishi. I bought about N30, 000 worth of kilishi to have a feel of the market and packaged them in the plastic containers with a sticker of my company name and contact details. My first batch sold out in a matter of days and I made a decent profit. I increased the quantity on my next order and sold out in a matter of days as well.”
Before Uche sold the idea to Minso, he was spending his lunch break delivering kilishi to friends and acquaintances. When he became convinced that the business would work, he quit his job and moved to Abuja to involve his trusted friend.
With their savings and the support of family members, the two friends were able to set up shop. They got a loan only two months ago, but might never have launched out if they had waited for the loan to start.
However, the business hasn’t been without the usual challenges faced by many start-ups, especially at the height of the exchange rate fluctuation.
Uche explained how Golnar Foods had been coping with the challenges: “We had to increase our prices slightly and introduce smaller packs to make our products more affordable. Our initial pouches and some other equipment were imported from the US. We had to switch suppliers from the US to China.”
Uche and Minso have big plans for16-staff-strong Golnar Foods in the future, including diversification, fully automated production and nationwide presence. They also want to export from Nigeria to other countries across Africa and set up a production facility in Europe due to meat restrictions there.