Last week, I went to Oyingbo Market, a popular market in Lagos and I was shocked! The number of tomatoes I got for 500 Naira was about half of what I got 2 weeks ago. I tried to “price” one pineapple from 900 Naira to 500 Naira and the seller hissed and turned to another customer but I got that size of pineapple at 400 Naira 3 weeks ago. The cost of food is increasing rapidly and if I am struggling, I wonder how people who need raw food to run their businesses are coping. I talked to Feranmi of NiFries about this and he shared crazy insights about running his business and how food businesses can attempt to remain afloat in this economy.
Who Is Feranmi, the business owner?
I am someone who likes to explore food. I fancy blending cuisines from all over the world with local food. So I describe myself as a Food Fusion Enthusiast. I like to really fuse food from different cultures and I’ve done that with the Suya Burger and with the Akara Burger which launches soon.
That sounds super cool. Do you still cook all the food from NiFries yourself?
Most times, I still cook. Every recipe that has been created at NiFries, I created it.
How did you get into food entrepreneurship?
The year was 2013 and I was a student at the University of Lagos. There was a business idea pitch competition at my church. I had been cooking but not professionally and my idea was A twist to the local fries. So as an alternative to roadside fried yam and Akara, I was pitching food like Bread and Akara served with prawn sauce, Yam served with corned beef sauce and turkey and stuff like that. I bundled up the idea, pitched it at church and I won. Ever since then, I have been on the food business grind.
Prawn Sauce, I want! So is that business that morphed into what NiFries is Now?
Yeah, it’s the same business. There was a break due to some financial issues but we “resurrected” fully in 2020 and we’ve been grinding ever since.
You’ve been in the game for a while, what was the earliest lesson you learned in business?
Making promises you can’t keep is the easiest way to lose talent. You need people to help you run your business, so when you meet amazing people, you may consider making unkeepable promises to hire them. Don’t do it. It’s bad for the business both in terms of finances when you have to pay from your personal pocket and in terms of customer retention. Let me give an example, you run a barbershop and you say you’ll pay barbers 100k. You can’t pay the barbers what you promised so they keep quitting. Your customers in turn have a new barber cutting their hair every other week and just conclude you are unreliable. Now you’ve lost talent and also lost customers.
Oh, make sense! What’s the most recent lesson you’ve learned in business
People forget! They like your food, they like your brand but they forget to place that order. Now because people forget, it’s very important that businesses engage their customers. This is asides from things like posting on social media. It’s as complex as understanding who your top customers are and sending them messages at the end of the month, maybe with a little discount. People forget brands and you have to remind them.
I am taking notes! In all your years running your business, what’s the wildest thing you’ve experienced?
We went to deliver to a customer and we forgot to pack either the burger or the yogurt, I don’t really remember. The customer brought out a dog and said my delivery rider wouldn’t leave his house till we delivered the burger. The dog was chasing the rider while the customer was calling us to threaten us that if he didn’t get his burger delivered, the rider would remain “on the run”. It was so weird.
LMAO! WILD! What was the first practical step you took in “resurrecting” your Food Business?
Endorsements! I got people in my network to try out my food and endorse it on social media.
How do you manage your finances?
It can get very very messy. We are currently trying to build one single source of truth for business finances and it’s a lot of work.
What would you attribute to being the biggest influence on your business growth?
Influencer Marketing and “Anon Giveaways”
Oh, how do these Anon Giveaways work for you?
BuyFoods is an app that has an anon feature that allows users to order food anonymously for other people and it automatically makes an announcement on Twitter. So some users go on BuyFoods and other users send a DM directly to us on Twitter and we announce it.
You are mentioning Twitter a lot, would you say that it’s a huge factor as well?
Yes, I would. It’s more because I am personally really active on Twitter but I think Instagram is a bigger gold mine for my business. I invested in Instagram a while back and the returns were really profitable. It’s just that Instagram requires a really high investment in content for high returns in terms of sales while Twitter requires a low investment in content for low returns.
What are your biggest challenges right now?
Logistics and getting a full view of finances. Those are the really big challenges.
What does your operating model look like right now?
Right now we primarily operate on a pre-order model. So we do pre-orders before 11 am and then at 11 am we start processing and shipping all the others. Sometimes, people walk in and we take real-time orders as well but not a lot. We are trying to move to a model where we can take pre-orders but also distribute more real-time orders using platforms BoltFood, JumiaFood, and Chowdeck.
Food prices are increasing every day but NiFries has managed to maintain its prices. How?
Okay so for pricing, particularly for food businesses, there is something called an inflation gap. Basically, it is setting your prices not just to include profit but to also allow for inflation. This means if my cost price is 10 Naira, I can assume that due to inflation, my cost price can go as high as 15 Naira in the future, so I price my product at say 18 Naira. This means I have my 3 Naira profit and 5 Naira which should be deposited into something called a “growth fund”. So, when inflation hits, I can just go and pull out from my growth fund and use that to sustain the business.
So is that how you are managing?
Yes, that and to bring some of our operations in-house. So like our Suya, we are working on bringing it in-house so we are at least able to control that aspect of the business.
What are the craziest food prices you’ve noticed?
Oh, the bread we use for the burgers, was 300 Naira two years ago, that same bread is now 1000 Naira. In 2013, a carton of turkey was 7,500 Naira, last year it was 16, 000 Naira and right now it’s about 28,000 Naira.
Omo! That’s crazy! What’s your dream for your business?
For NiFries to be the Burger King of Africa. I mean I know that Burger King is coming to Nigeria but the dream would be if, for instance, they said oh, let’s buy NiFries out.