‘We aim to remain a premium brand built on trust’
Chinedum Okereke is the Managing Director of The La Casera Company Plc, (TLCC) makers of La Casera Apple. Okereke, who has over 28 years experience in the drink industry spanning 28 countries joined TLCC last year. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, Okereke takes a look at the country’s soft drink market, how elections caused uncertainty in the industry and the brand’s plans for consumers this year.
How will you assess the soft drinks market in Nigeria?
IT has been an interesting one so far as the market has big players and has witnessed quite some growths in the last couple of years even though in 2016 and 2017, there was a decline in its growth. But last year, there was a nine per cent growth in the market. Another interesting dynamic is that we have begun to see a very strong shift from traditional returnable glass bottles (RGBs) to PET bottles. You will recall in the last 60 years, RGBs have been in Nigeria. But we have seen a very significant shift in Nigeria where people have moved away from RGBs to PET bottles, which today, drive a big chunk of the market.
In your opinion, is Nigeria likely to witness a double-digit market growth this year?
Projections are showing a low double-digit growth, which will be slightly higher than what we had last year. We are looking at about 15 per cent growth. We should also take into cognisance the socio-political environment in the country. Invariably, there are a couple of variables we need to consider, such as the elections that recently held as well as government policies in terms of devaluation. But all other things being equal and if there is no significant impact from these socio-political indices, agencies have projected a low double digit growth, which is quite good for players in the industry.
There is stiff competition in the market today, how would you say you’re faring?
We’re actually on a journey but the good news is that in 2018, we saw a slow but steady monthly improvement in our market share. We ended last year with a decent market share and have very aggressive plans for this year. We believe that consumers should feel our presence the market strongly this year. Our growth is improving and we are very happy about it, because our improvement has been above our expectations. The Nigerian soft drink market is very clustered. We have about four players in the apple category and people are making all kinds of claims but we are not offering concentrates or extracts, but real apple content which consumers will quickly discover when they taste it. We want to continue to maintain our leadership position in that category. For us, being consistent with our commitment in terms of liquid chemistry and liquid premium vale to consumers is very important to us. So, we are at that point of leadership and differentiation where a taste will convince any consumer that we offer real apple.
What are your plans for 2019, taking into consideration the socio-political issues earlier mentioned?
One thing is very sure, we will continue to give our consumers and partners the desired attention and experience they deserve from a premium brand like ours and are ready to excite the market and take what belongs to us. In 2019, we want to ensure that we drive commercial aggressiveness, by ensuring that we have all our brands available, affordable and accessible to all our consumers. We can only urge our trade partners and consumers to just enjoy the brand as we take them through the 2019 experience. We have a lot of plans as a business, and will deploy them in the course of the year. Of course, when a brand is experiencing growth, one needs to ensure that the brand is available at the right place, at the right price and time and we have strong indicators to track this.
What processes have you put in place to ensure that you meet international standards?
As someone with strong background in supply chain and manufacturing, I have had the privilege of visiting top class manufacturing sites across the globe in Europe, North America and Asia. I must say that when I compared the practices in those places with what I met on ground when I resumed as MD, I was very impressed. I am talking about hygiene standards and key best practice processes, good manufacturing practice, quality standards, asset care management, maintenance programme, safety standards among others.
I must say that what I met on ground, which I am building upon, is quite encouraging. We are a reference site of what excellent manufacturing practice is all about. We’ve entered competitions on best- kept sites and won on several occasions. We get routine visits from regulatory agencies like NAFDAC and SON for certifications and endorsements. We have ISO Certifications on quality, food safety amongst others. For us as a company, we hold the trust of our consumers and are assuring our consumers that for every bottle they open, they are opening a trust because for us, quality and safety come first before productivity and cost.
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