CEO takes dried fruit company from idea to modern factory

by MMC
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Employees of the new ReelFruit factory.

Employees of the new ReelFruit factory.

Last month, Nigerian dried fruit snacks company ReelFruit went live with its new 800 tonne per year product. processing facility in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

“This plant is not just a bricks and mortar structure. It embodies my unwavering long-term belief in Nigeriaagricultural and manufacturing opportunity. We will transform our range (of) dried fruits on a large scale, to serve customers across the country, as well as sell “Made in Nigeria” to the rest of the world, creating several hundred jobs and having a positive impact on large-scale farmers. I hope that our factory will stand as a positive symbol in Nigeria’s business landscape for generations to come,” commented the company’s founder and CEO, Affiong Williams.

Launching into uncharted waters

In 2012, after returning to Nigeria from South Africa where she lived for over a decade, Williams began exploring the Nigerian market to assess the viability of dried fruit snacks. She imported fruit from South Africa, packaged it and distributed samples to potential customers. At that time, this type of snack was relatively unknown in Nigeria, with no other local producer producing it on a large scale.

“I worked for an organization in South Africa called Endeavour, which offered entrepreneurial support. This is where the entrepreneurship bug appeared. I started researching my business idea while I was still employed in this position,” Williams said.

Initially, Williams planned to produce fruit juices, but lacked the capital to acquire the necessary machinery. Through a process of elimination, dried fruits emerged as a promising opportunity.

“It was difficult to launch a product that no one really knew about. People would wonder why they would want to eat dried mango rather than fresh mango, for example. We had an uphill battle.

Aware of the difficulties of market acceptance, Williams shelved her plans to start her business on all fronts simultaneously: opening a factory, processing, creating a brand and working with farmers.

“I realized we needed to focus on the market first. So we designed our brand and imported dried mangoes from Ghana in our second year, in 2013. We packaged and distributed to as many retail stores as possible. Although it was difficult to access stores and secure import supplies, it was by far the best strategy to gain market acceptance before backward integrating,” Williams explained.

Today, ReelFruit products – including dried mango, dried pineapple, fruit and nut mixes, and coconut flakes – are available in hundreds of stores across the country. The company has also exported to several countries.

Learn more: ‘An uphill battle’: Entrepreneur shares how she created a dried fruit snack brand in Nigeria

Navigating the fundraising journey

In 2021, ReelFruit raised $3 million in Series A funding investors Alitheia IDF, Samata Capital and Flying Doctor Healthcare Investment Company. The capital was intended for its new processing facilities and expansion of sales in the United States and other international markets.

According to Williams, fundraising takes time and tenacity. “When I look at other founders who have successfully raised funds, a common thread is perseverance. Most of those who have successfully raised funds have at least five years of experience in their sector of activity.

Affiong Williams, CEO of Nigerian dried fruit snack producer ReelFruit

“When you look at the agribusiness start-up sector in Africa, there is not a huge amount of capital available. Ideas are not enough to raise money, especially when you are raising money for physical assets.

“I started ReelFruit nine years ago and have been working on this funding round for the past five years. Sometimes I would spend three to four full days a week fundraising for months, with the support of a full-time team. Just building the data room (all the financial, operational and other data investors need for their due diligence) took months of work. All of this must be balanced with the continuation of daily operations. I’ve seen a number of entrepreneurs have to step away from fundraising because they were spending too much time running their business.

“That said, I’m glad we raised the money at this time. If we had raised money in the first year or two, we probably would have misallocated the funds and would not be a business today. We now have a much better understanding of the business.

Learn more: Agribusiness CEO shares fundraising lessons after securing $3 million

Eyeing the American market

The United States is the largest consumer market in the world, estimated at 16 trillion dollars. On the other hand, Nigeriaalthough it is home to more than 220 million inhabitants and constitutes one of the largest consumption centers in Africa, is expected to reach a market value of only $3 trillion by 2030. This disparity shows why, for many companies in the Nigerian agribusiness sector, the United States could be an attractive target.

Williams sees the large Nigerian diaspora in America as a golden opportunity for companies like his to establish a presence in the United States. “There is no better market, nor low-hanging fruit, than that of your people in another country,” she said. “I see a growing opportunity for products such as mine, and other food products with increasingly global standards, to sell into the Nigerian market in the United States. »

It is estimated that at least 5 million Nigerians live abroada significant portion of these people reside in the United States.

Even if the Nigerian diaspora in the United States feels a connection to their home country, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll choose a ReelFruit package out of nostalgia. Williams understands that to be successful, his product must also appeal to the broader American audience, not just those of Nigerian descent. “Many foods exported from Nigeria to the United States are intended for Nigerians in the diaspora. However, if people could produce more appealing foods and snacks, this could be a big opportunity,” she noted.

Learn more: Feeding the Nigerian Diaspora in America – a Prime Agribusiness Opportunity

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