There was one demographic that liked the product and bought it consistently. These were well-heeled Nigerians who were primarily interested in the nutritional and culinary value of their food. They valued the hygienic standard reflected in the product; they were excited at the prospect of eating garri but with a much reduced glycemic load (and they knew what the term 'glycemic index' meant); they were happy to avoid the "bloated feeling" that comes after eating garri; they appreciated the refined hand-feel and mouth-feel of the product. The fact that it was gluten-free was an added bonus. They acknowledged a much better nutritional experience "eating Scintilla" as compared to "swallowing garri", something many of them had simply stopped doing. (An interesting point: This demographic would typically NOT call it "garri" or "garri flour" but instead call it by its brand name "Scintilla". This is the exact opposite of the other segments that WANTED to call it "garri" but could NOT make that mental leap for the aforementioned reasons. So they referred to it as that "fine fine garri".)
This well-heeled demographic could afford such differentiation....
That was NOT the situation with the bulk of people who eat garri daily. This well-heeled (female, middle-aged, upper-middle class, often foreign-educated) segment was telling us very clearly what we needed to do. Look away from the [Nigerian] mass market to other markets where the attributes of our product would be a virtue. On close inspection, this very tiny sliver of the Nigerian food market looked almost identical to the middle-class consumer in the U.S. We were going to flip this failure around by listening to the 'Voice of the Customer'.
We were going to export "Scintilla Gluten-Free Garri Flour".
Our market research showed that there was rapidly growing interest in gluten-free flours and wholesome foods in the U.S. People were willing to pay a premium for wholesome food ingredients. For instance, a small advert demonstrated to us how effervescent the market was at the time. Within a week of advertising to a small online group, we had more than two dozen people send in different pizza recipes (with very vivid pictures) based on our flour. All of them shared glowing accounts of their experience using our flour to make pizza for their families. Several more people produced tortilla for their home use. There was quite a lot of bread baked and documented with this same gluten-free flour. We got very positive responses to the product wherever it was presented (including events, trade shows, and online outlets). Contrast that with a different market where we could not give it away free. Not to be outdone, my Haitian mother-in-law used Scintilla to make 'akasan', a drink she had enjoyed in her childhood before moving to the U.S. Though made typically from corn in Haiti, it was effortless for her to make akasan from Scintilla (which is made from cassava). With all this happening at about the same time, we could see the red lights turning green. Gradually.
We had to change our strategy. Aquada would have to become an export-focused company if it were to survive. Fortunately, we had the essential elements needed to establish a viable export presence in the North American market, starting with physical and operational access to the markets.
In March of 2006, I returned to the U.S. with the express intent of setting up a company that would be the international market development partner for Aquada. I registered that company on the 1st of April, 2006.
That company was named........ Vertical Optimization, LLC.