Our History

There were many reasons for the strong NEGATIVE response from the market.

No one had heard of branded "garri". Garri is an undifferentiated product that people buy in "cups", measured from open heaps in basins in the market. (Google it and you will see images of the granules shaped into conical heaps in basins in the market.) Vendors measure the garri in cups (or "paints" as in paint buckets) and pour it into a plastic bag. That tied plastic bag is the standard unit of purchase for garri. The idea that garri that would be branded and packaged suggested to prospective customers that it would be costlier. People wanted garri - cheap and accessible, even if it were of questionable sanitary value. (As we were kindly informed by a prospective customer, "After all no one has ever died of garri poisoning!". If you're wondering what our response was, don't! We were simply too stunned to challenge that statement given the intense insect activity around the heap of garri right next to where this statement was made. That seminal experience laid bare how uncompetitive we would be in that marketplace, our best efforts notwithstanding. We were being asked to "wake up!".)

Then came the issue of the appearance and texture. Garri is known to be  GRANULAR, not powdery (like a flour). It is perhaps the most staple of staple foods in Nigeria. EVERY child knows what ("normal") garri looks like - granular, in one of two hues ("yellow", roasted with palm oil as a colorant and preservative, or "white", roasted without the addition of palm oil). And here we came with a fine, powdery (admittedly visually appealing) product called "garri flour". People could NOT get themselves to call it "garri". If they could NOT call it "garri", then they could not make the mental leap to viewing it as a part of their staple diet. Those who tasted it liked it but...... they wanted to eat "garri". They were used to their garri, not that "fine smooth powder that tastes like garri".

There was more bad news.

Given that garri is made in homes by farmers who grow their own cassava and deploy their domestic labor in the production of garri, the cost of labor in most of the garri sold in the market is..... nil. Most farmers do NOT price their labor (and that of their supportive family members) into the production of garri from [their own] cassava. That free (and often very experienced) labor pool is readily available as part of the filial compact, not a commercial enterprise. That is not a luxury a manufacturing firm like ours has. We pay for labor. It is difficult to compete with "free", especially when it is indeed free.

Then there was the cost of cassava. We had to buy cassava by negotiating with smallholder farmers for the supply of subsistence volumes of cassava, aggregated to support our facility. As smart entrepreneurs, they would only sell what they could not process to garri since garri fed their families and sold for more than raw cassava in the market. So we were, in effect, buying raw materials from the direct competition. Prices would go UP each time as they realized we were committed to buying in large quantities. That inflationary pressure would progressively reflect in our pricing of the "garri flour".

Everyone who [eventually] tasted the product liked it. But the sales figures were dismal.

We were asking people to change too many things at once - new visual appeal (granular to flour), new presentation (undifferentiated bulk product to packaged offering), new mouth feel (which they liked if they could be convinced to taste it - for free), a different pricing regime (sold by weight instead of volume i.e. the "cup" or the "paint"), different price range, and above all, different sales channels (from mounds in basins in markets to store shelves). 

It was too much. We deserved the "No!".

I had been blinded by my well intentioned (but utterly misplaced) North American cultural and culinary sensibilities, exported wholesale to a nutritionally illiberal society. This was confirmation bias (on our part) at its most dangerous.

We were failing. We had to change.

We needed to look at the flip side of this failure......

All Rights Reserved, Vertical Optimization, LLC