Let’s brand suya!
Branding is everything and everything is a brand. But has anyone considered how suya is such an integral part of our brand identity? Suya is uniquely and proudly Nigerian and I know how Nigerians living abroad crave suya. Some Nigerians claim to make suya abroad. I have tasted some, but they’re never able to get it right. It’s just not the same thing as what we savour back home. There was a popular suya place in London.
I don’t know if the place is still there but I remember the suya was nothing to write home about. Why are we not exporting this special delicacy? As we think up ways to diversify our economy and earn foreign exchange we must begin to brand those things that are uniquely Nigerian and suya is one of them!
Consider the Chinese and how they have exported their cuisine to every part of the world. There is virtually no city in the world today where you don’t have a Chinese restaurant. And these restaurants are usually run by the Chinese, because as they say, if it’s not Chinese, it’s not the same thing as Chinese! How did they do it? In several big cities around the world, you even have what they call Chinatown, a mini China where even the sign boards are written in Chinese. And where of course you will find several Chinese restaurants. In Nigeria, our suya has a similar character. Only the Northerners make it. And they have taken it to every part of the country. If you see a Yoruba man making suya, you’re not likely to touch it. Similarly, if you go to a Chinese restaurant and it is an Igbo man running the show, you may not wish to eat the food. The reason is that the Northerners have closely guarded the secret recipe that gives suya that special spicy taste. Similarly, the Chinese have kept their culinary secrets close to their chests. I remember visiting a family friend in Europe whose wife had worked with some Chinese employers.
During the years she spent working with them, she told us they taught her to cook their way and she could make Chinese fried rice. She did, but I didn’t tell her that I didn’t think they gave her the whole secret! These days you find a lot of Nigerian caterers making Chinese options and offering it at parties. I don’t touch it. When I want Chinese, I go to a Chinese restaurant. That is how strong the perception is for me. Is it because I think and breathe branding or is it that these ‘imitations’ really don’t measure up?
The secret of suya lies in that peppery, spicy, powdery stuff they sprinkle on it. What they mix and grind to make that stuff is a closely guarded secret and is what gives suya its uniquely irresistible spicy flavor. Ask a Maisuya what substances are used to make it and he will not tell you.
But if you want some of that powdery stuff without the actual suya, he will sell it to you. I do this fairly frequently to make barbecue at home and the result is always the same. I get that unique suya taste!
Now, why are we not exporting this stuff? I want to see companies in our Northern states canning this spicy delight and exporting it to different countries around the world. On the label, they will write a romantic story about how several secret and exotic spices have been specially and expertly blended, using skills passed on from generations, to make this extra special delight, giving your barbecue a taste beyond compare! That is branding. Nigerians living abroad now have their suya! And their oyinbo friends will gladly cultivate the taste. Sometimes, I take this suya mix to friends abroad for barbecue and I know how they love it! The secret to our economic revival lies in some of these secret recipes we take for granted!
It is not only suya. There are numerous delicacies from around the country that can be given similar treatment. Take our popular pepper soup. Why are we not canning pepper soup and exporting it? You only need to pour it into a bowl, microwave it for 3 minutes and it’s ready to savor! Another uniquely and proudly Nigerian delicacy! For a country that imports tonnes of ordinary baked beans and sardines, I just don’t understand why we are not doing these things. These things will be of interest to my friend and brother, Segun Awolowo who is the Chief Executive Officer at Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC.
Those who are familiar with the Nando’s brand will marvel at how Portugal has exported their peri peri chicken recipe to other parts of the world, spinning a fairy tale about chicken, valor and honor! Founded in South Africa in 1987, the food chain has its Head Office in Portugal. In the United Kingdom alone, they have 339 Nando’s restaurants! In South Africa, there are 259! They are now present in at least 24 countries around the world. What does Nando’s sell? Chicken and peri peri marinades! Hot and spicy, but uniquely Portuguese. I don’t think there are many countries that have more hot and spicy varieties and delicacies than we have in Nigeria. In every Nando’s restaurant, you will see images and writings that promote Portugal and make you want to visit Portugal. That is destination branding. It is incredible what that brand has done for its country of origin. This is what we should be doing! This is what branding does. We must apply branding to all the wonderful things we have in this country and over time we will be amazed at how transformational the impact can be! In most of the things we do, or try to do, the missing link is branding!
In London, there are many Nigerian restaurants. There is even a Calabar Kitchen. Calabar is known for its famous edikaikong soup. By now, this amazing soup should be a global brand! Calabar is the only city I have visited in Nigeria where hotel food is actually amazingly irresistible. These guys just make the best meals! Why don’t we have Calabar Cuisine as a brand you find in different cities around Africa and beyond? Some of these simple things we take for granted can be turned into multi billion naira businesses. What amazes me is why we simply refuse to leave this archaic and primitive level and take a giant leap forward. Why do we keep doing things the same way for decades? Why are we not transforming our amazing assets into brands that resonate around the world? Doing so will transform the image of our nation, create wealth and give our people a sense of pride. It’s high time we exported everything but crude oil and 419! The time to start is now!
•Muyiwa Kayode is the CEO at USP Brand Management and Author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding.