Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
Eric Umeofia is the President/Chief Executive Officer of Erisco Foods. A food manufacturer who has in no small measure contributed to the development of the economy through his local manufacturing, Umeofia recently made another first in the manufacture of compo food for soldiers in the war front.
According to him, the compo food which comprises garri, sugar and milk; rice, indomie, spaghetti, two spoons and tissue, is prepared and vacuumed to last for 18 months.
Demonstrating how the food can be warmed in the war front, he put a little water into a tiny cellophane containing heating element.
“With that heating element, the soldier brings out his food inside a cellophane compartment, drops some little water and the food is heated up to a reasonable heating condition that he can eat the food” he said.
In this interview, Umeofia disclosed that his company relocated to Angola because of lack of support by Nigerians. He however, noted that with the support of the government, Erisco Foods would re-establish its presence in Nigeria.
Erisco Foods in Nigeria
Erisco Foods is the largest tomato paste company in Africa and the second in the world.
We have a lot of facilities. We have expanded into manufacturing from our own factories. We have never imported any single food item into this country. What we are yet to manufacture is just food element. In the next one year we will do that in Nigeria.
Our compo food
We subject the food to over 140 degrees for some minutes. And after that we vacuum it. By that the lifespan of the food can be two years or three years.
The food is cooked before vacuuming. You cook it and vacuum the air and preserve it for a longer time through a process. That is why it looks fresh every time.
Importance of Defence and Research Development Bureau (DRDB) to the manufacturing sector
Of course, the bureau is very important to us. We are happy that we are part of the firms that have succeeded in partnering with Defence and Research Development Bureau (DRDB) which is the number one department that is in charge of protecting us. However, it has not been easy because we are not making profit from it and we are not expecting any profit from it.
But we know that if our people are feeding well they will live well. It is very strategic and important to us that we are part of the people feeding our military. I assure you that going forward they will defeat our enemies.
Research that gave us compo food
It took us a year and six months and I can assure you that it is not easy.
What were your challenges?
Before now it had not happened that you produced food in a mini-kitchen. We spent a lot of money. We did a lot of travelling. We conducted a lot of research and we made a lot of investment to arrive at this. In fact, if we were to sell it considering what we invested in the research, it would sell beyond the reach of many Nigerians.
But it is part of our support to the nation. That is why we are not considering the amount we expended.
How much did you spend so far?
We don’t have to disclose it for now. I don’t think it will be of benefit to you now. It is not meant for the general public. Imagine after you have invested so much in a research and produced a product, you are restricted to a smaller group of people. It is basically for the military and the paramilitary. You cannot sell to any other individual without permission.
Do you have plans to increase the size of the ration?
No. This is in line with international standard. It is for the whole military across the nation. There is a standard ration. So, if it is bigger, it cannot be lifted with ammunition to the war-front. That is the exact quantity. If it is big they (soldiers) may not fight better. That is the exact quantity.
Do you have other varieties apart from rice and spaghetti?
Yes, more varieties are coming.
As soon as we continue to progress we will veer into other varieties.
I want to assure you that not every businessman puts money forward ahead of his integrity. We have our integrity to protect. We expect to have profit of course, but that is not our target. Our target now is to be among the people that are sustaining our country’s military. We have been praying to sustain our economy and God is helping us.
We have tomato paste. We have cubes for children; we have garri. We have 3-in-one; we have chocolate drinks; we have wheat; we have rice floor; we have a lot of them like milk tea, black tea with milk and sugar mixed together. There are about 17 items we have developed so far. But we have five in the market.
What happened to Erisco Bombet (the fire eater technology)?
Erisco Bombet suffered lack of support from Nigerians. That is why we moved it to Angola. But it is doing well now. But now the nation has woken up from its slumber. Thanks to President Muhammadu Bahari, that initiated a policy of ‘eat what we produce and, produce what we need’. That is why we are happy to be here because the current government supports us to stay. However, the system is yet to support us the way the government is supporting us. Erisco Bombet is still doing well but not in this country anymore.
How much support do you need from Nigerians?
You can’t quantify support. The best support is for you to patronise us. On the part of government, it must make sure that foreign goods are banned from coming into this country. So far, tomatoes have been banned but now there are several brands of tomatoes in the market now than when it was banned.
NAFDAC has banned these brands of tomatoes, yet Nigerians are still consuming them. Which means many people prefer to die gradually or commit suicide gradually. The food you eat should not be determined by colour. The food we eat in this country from China cannot be eaten in China. Indians that import cannot allow the products they import in their country. We are crying that the economy is harsh but we are the ones contributing to the harsh economy.
When you patronise us and buy our products we expand our companies and employ more people and things will be good for everybody. Nobody will go to the hospital for an incurable disease. Eat good food and God will help you.
The support of the government that we need is not only money but policy support. That they have done but it is yet to be implemented.
How has the ban on rice and tomatoes affected local production?
From the beginning President Buhari administration, it has supported the growth of the economy. But the system is the problem. The president cannot be everywhere and at any time. If we are not selling our products, how can I employ more people. Unless and until we recognise our own like the military has recognised us , we cannot grow our economy. By next year we are expanding our factory in Abuja, specifically in this product (compo ration). If you patronise me I will get some money to do more work. Mind you some of us are not working for money to eat alone now. We are working for money to help the nation. So, if you want to trap me you are trapping air.
Right now I have the choice to live in three nations but I decided to live in Nigeria. I can go to live in America, Angola and the UAE. But I am loyal to my country. You and I will salvage this country.
Why foreign foods are cheaper than local brands?
How did they produce the food? If it is a good food why must it be cheaper than local ones? Poison is the cheapest thing you can think of because otapiapia N10 can kill somebody in minutes. Foreign foods are cheap because they are like otapiapia. They are poison. Until we shun anything foreign our body can never have rest and our country can never have rest.
Which countries do have businesses?
We have businesses in Angola; and we have businesses in UAE. We are free to go anywhere. But the Nigerian government decided to invite us to develop the country. That is why we are still here.
Why our products appear scarce
We are just here for the sake of our country. The support we expect is not coming the way it should be. We lose more money in Nigeria than what we are supposed to get.
However, we are not worried. But if the situation continues, we may have no option than to relocate. But with what we are seeing now, we are convinced that things will get better.
Do you intend to diversify into other areas apart from foods?
We will soon join the auto manufacturing industries by the Grace of God.