Leadership (Abuja)

10 November 2012

Nigeria: Cassava-Based Products Are Healthy Choice - UTC Chief, Olaniyan

interview

Mrs Foluso Olaniyan is the Managing Director of UTC Nigeria Plc. In this interview with KINGSLEY ALU, the UTC Chief Baker speaks on the company's confectionery industry flagship cassava product, which has been repackaged and rebranded for the ECOWAS market. She also sheds more light on how much the company has received from the federal government's Cassava Bread Fund, among other

When did you start producing cassava bread?

It was last year.We concluded our production and equipment strategy and plan at the end of the third quarter of 2011. At that time, we were just doing our thing; we were unaware of the cassava bread issue. We were only informed about it on December 23, 2011 at a meeting called at the instance of the minister of agriculture, where four corporate bakers were brought in to start the inclusion of cassava flour in bread this year.

We went to work immediately after the Christmas holiday, despite the 10-day nationwide strike. And within eight weeks we did 92 trials and we were able to achieve a sustainable cassava bread recipe with 20 per cent HQCF inclusion. This was done at that time with zero support from any external body. Based on our own promptings and breakthroughs, other corporate bakers followed suit.

In addition to bread, we included our mass market range of snacks, namely UTC Chopsy Beef Roll and UTC Marble Cakes. These are long-life products with close to two weeks shelf life. We are the largest consumer of the HQCF in the baking industry because we use it for a range of 12 products. However, we have our no-cassava range for those averse to the taste of cassava.

We respect human rights, hence we give our consumers the options of choice. Our cassava range is clearly marked with the cassava logo, while the no-cassava range has no cassava logo.

This is definitely a virgin area for your company. What strategies did you adopt to keep your relevance in the competitive confectionary industry?

In the private sector, companies make budgets which include equipment and production strategy and plans are always concluded at the end of the third quarter of the year preceding implementation.

It might interest you to know that despite the 10-day national strike we were able to hit the market in the eighth week of the year.

We branded, sold for cash and followed up with tasting sessions, which were opened to the public. We went a step further by allowing bakers, millers, NAFDAC and international agencies to come in and verify our inclusion claims and they left pleased and satisfied.

For the past two months the UTC cassava bread has been off the shelf in the market.What happened?

We decided to take a short break. The launching of Starloaf Cassava Bread in the first quarter of the year really put a serious strain on our equipment output, hence the need to fast-track routine maintenance by two months, on the advice of our engineers. It was during this period of maintenance that we did not produce Starloaf.

But I am happy to inform you that Starloaf is back, and this time it comes with much more improved additional quality and a higher level of high quality cassava flour, HQCF.

Are we looking at the same old size?

Currently UTC has two products in its cassava bread range. The additional product came out after the company's routine maintenance exercise. In addition to the 400 grammes sliced loaf we had before, we have come out with a 200g Kiddies' Loaf in tamper-proof pack which is affordable to the average Nigerian family. It is an appropriate single meal for a normal Nigerian child.

It is still the same as Starloaf but it comes in a smaller size. Children are a sensitive group, so we take extra care and this is what makes the product unique and by far the cheapest today.

What are your next plans for the cassava bread range?

Because we realised that these products have been tasted and commended by presidents and heads of governments of some countries who visited President Goodluck Jonathan, we decided to step back, improve on quality and delivery standards. We are also looking at exporting them to neighbouring African countries to support government's advocacy of cassava usage as raw materials for bread and other food products.

The new, improved ones have been made to international standards; Kiddies' Loaf with tamper-proof packaging; batch numbers for traceability; best before dates to protect consumers; barcode for scanning purposes in retail outlets, and increased cassava flour inclusion to reduce the intake of gluten by gluten-intolerant consumers and to address concerns expressed in glycaemic index of wheat flour by health-conscious consumers.

We want to make this year's Christmas a cassava-filled Christmas for African nations. We are spreading the cassava message across the continent of Africa. As we speak, we have appointed agents for the products in Cotonou and Accra. We are just waiting to fine-tune our MoU (memorandum of understanding) and all necessary paper works before we commence delivery.

Despite its recent launch by the Federal Government, many Nigerians are not aware of cassava bread, but now you are talking of exporting.Don't you think you are stretching your luck?

As a private organisation we are interested in shareholders' values which come with profitability. Hence, our readiness to embrace consumers who are ready to pay the price, irrespective of where they are as long as it contributes positively to our bottom line. Private companies are created for profits. Cassava-based products create values health-wise and increase productivity, as the inclusion of cassava flour reduces production costs.

Recently, the Federal Government unveiled the Cassava Intervention Fund to support producers of cassava bread. How much hasUTC received from the fund?

We appreciate the efforts of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture in attracting attention to cassava bread from UTC.We are waiting for support via the Cassava Bread Fund instituted by the President in June to enable us grow our output of the cassava loaf to significant levels that will actually impact on the Nigerian farmers. If the uptake is high, the drive towards use of HQCF will follow suit. It is our hope that more corporate bakers will adopt the policy and get creative.

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