N. F. Kenure
At Afrocade, we are really about putting our best foot forward as Africans, so when I came across Tcheep- a plantain chips Start-up with all of its feet forward (why is the saying ‘best feet’, when we only have two? Shouldn’t it be better feet forward?) I wanted to find out everything about Nneka Ukay, the brains behind the brand.
Q: What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
Nneka: I think as an entrepreneur, the first thing is to be able to see opportunity, even in a ‘crowded’ market. With all our resources in Nigeria, we still seem to be underperforming in the quality of our finished products. So, I decided to create a qualitative proudly Nigerian product by redefining a traditional snack so it can compete globally while still appealing to the local palate.
Q: How did the idea for your business come about? Why chips?
Nneka: You know, when people ask what I do, and I say ‘I make plantain chips’ the body language is usually not very complimentary. Then they see Tcheep and they say ‘all this for plantain chips!?”.
Plantain chips are a widely consumed snack in Nigeria and the production process is not very complicated, so it seemed a good choice for a first product by a new entrant into the food processing space. However, the finished product has not evolved much and we feel this is where the real opportunity is – in upscaling and differentiating our own product.
Q : Next question is why “Tcheep”? How did you come up with the name? Why did you settle on it, apart from the obvious homophone?
Nneka: “Tcheep” is a play on the word ‘chip’ so the name resonated with us. The brand’s persona is fun, playful and authentically Nigerian and we wanted the name to reflect that. Also, from a branding point of view, the name has a lot of potential. We also wanted a name that would be easy for our foreign customers to remember.
Q: How long have you been in business?
Nneka: We’ve been in business for less than a year.
Q: Who do you sell to? How do you market your product?
Nneka: Our target audience is the middle class Nigerian consumer who would usually be found in urban areas or who lives abroad. These consumers understand, appreciate and expect a certain level of quality from products and we are here to meet that expectation. We currently promote Tcheep via our Instagram page @tcheep_chips and our Facebook page @tcheep.chips. We have also recently started attending food fairs specifically targeted at our audience.
Q : There are a lot of plantain chips in the market and truth be told, plantain chips have always been a staple of the Nigerian snack diet. Why will people buy your products and not others?
Nneka: First, we need to have a better concept of the sheer volume of the target audience. The population of Lagos State alone is twice that of some European countries. For instance, the other day, I made my first ever visit to Computer Village and was in awe. That whole market deals only in phones, computers and accessories yet there is enough business to go round. It just reiterated to me that the market is large enough for all of us.
Now, for Tcheep specifically, our packaging is very distinct and this sets us apart when placed beside any other brands. We also place a very high premium on quality and aim for every pack to be an enjoyable experience. The content must meet the expectations set by the design.
Finally, we are going to roll out plantain chips in several flavours, some of which would be new in our market. For us, it goes way beyond just plantain chips; it’s more about striving for a more qualitative snack experience and raising the bar in the small scale food processing sector.If we want people to buy Nigerian, let us meet the standards that they are used to.
Q: When it comes to quality control, what systems do you have in place to make sure you consistently send out the perfect pack of chips?
Nneka: We have documented processes in place from procurement to processing to packaging. Quality is one of our values and we do not compromise on this, even as a small business, because this is the only way the consumer will get the same experience repeatedly which would lead to them trusting the product.
Q: I came across your product on a friend’s Instagram page, as impressed as I was with your packaging, I am a little worried for you. Isn’t your package cutting into your profit margins? It’s ironic that I am attracted to your brand by the package, but it worries me at the same time, can you please reassure me?
Nneka: Thank you and please, don’t be worried. In the short time that we have been in business, we have spent a lot of energy and resources on two main things – the first was perfecting our production process and the second was on our packaging. Product packaging has two elements – packaging material and design. We benchmarked our product on foreign crisp brands; almost all of which come in foil packs. We found foil packs keep the product fresher for longer, so we knew we had to get foil packs.
Another element of the packaging is the design. Our design reflects the personality of the brand - fun, engaging and proudly Nigerian and is intended to help the product stand out in a ‘crowded’ market. Our pack portrays Nigeria’s unique parlance and showcases some iconic Nigerian landmarks. For us, by choosing to focus on these reminders of what makes us a unique people and makes our country great, we are creating a better sense of ‘Nigerianness”, if you will, among our target audience. Our aim is for consumers to spend a few minutes to engage with the pack; be amused by the text, inspired by the images and hopefully, choose to share the experience with someone else.
Of course, packaging is not enough so we have ensured that even though curiosity may lead to the first sale, the quality of the content will ensure repeat purchases.
So yes, good packaging costs good money, and even though our margins may be slimmer, our customers demand, expect and are worth the effort. Besides, we are in this for the long term and are looking more at a volume based business that spans generations. So even the slimmer margins will eventually add up.
Q: How did you raise funds for your venture?
Nneka: We have used personal funds, gotten loans from close friends and family and we are currently participating in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur Foundation programme which has provided validation for our business, invaluable training and will eventually support us with a seed grant. We will eventually open up to investors at a later time so we can scale the business.
Q: Your chips need to be in every aisle in ‘the abroad’, at the very least at the African stores, are there any plans to take your product to the international market?
Nneka: Thank you, that’s a huge compliment! We like to say that we have a local product of global standards and we have a very strong export strategy which has influenced a lot of our decisions, including our packaging.
Nigerians, and other Africans, in Diaspora make up a huge part of our target audience and we believe that they will first be drawn to the packaging which would stir up nostalgia and national pride, then be sold on the content. We are currently working to get approvals enable us sell in the UK and US from next year.
Q: If you could go back to the start of your career what would you do different? Would you go down the same path?
Nneka: If I could go back, I would have started my business much earlier as a side business. I would have funded the business from my salary and I would have transitioned into full time entrepreneurship after a while.
Q : What has been your most satisfying moment in business ?
Nneka: I would say that my most satisfying moment in business so far was getting my packaging done. It was a huge feat but receiving the packs just made everything come together and made the whole business more real. It was no longer just a concept, we now had a product.
Q: Everyone who is reading this is wondering what's special about Tcheep, where can they find Tcheep?
Nneka: We are about to start our retail access plan which would bring us to a store near you within the next couple of months. In the meantime, please call +234 708 244 8483 to order, you can also order via our Instagram handle @tcheep_chips or via Facebook @tcheep.chips
Q : Thank you so much for your time and here’s wishing you and Tcheep the very best.
Aug 9, 2018