Conserveria Africana is manufacturer and distributor of branded food products in West Africa. The company has a license to pack goods for Watanmal Group, a renowned FMCG company founded 107 years ago in Hong Kong, a favourite brand with African consumers. Conserveria Africana Limited (CAL) launched its operation in 2004 in Nigeria and then in 2011 in Ghana, producing a premium range of food products under several prominent brands including Gino and Pomo. Mr. Rajib Chattopadhyay, the Managing Director of CAL Ghana, says: “Under those brands we produce tomato paste and allied products, which is a major commodity in packaged foods in western and central Africa.”
Gino and Pomo are both very strong brands, favourites with local consumers, which Chattopadhyay believes is largely due to the high quality. “They believe in the brand name and have confidence in it,” he says. The company also engages in various community activities, working with schools and on environmental initiatives that help to keep the brands at the forefront of local customers’ minds. “We are continuously engaging with society and giving back wherever we can,” says Chattopadhyay.
Chattopadhyay had been at Watanmal Group in a previous role before joining Conserveria as Chief Operating Officer in Nigeria and then Managing Director of Ghana. He has been in his current role for five years. He says: “During my stint in China for five years, I was looking after back-end operations including third-party sourcing operations for Watanmal group. It gave me enormous exposure to products and taught me about choices and African consumers before I actually came to Africa. After that I spent some time in Singapore before I landed into Africa.” He heads up the manufacturing unit, looking after the operations of three factories and overseeing their individual General Managers.
The second phase of new state-of the-art factory opened in 2015 in Tema, Ghana – inaugurated by Ghana’s President, John D Mahama – which Chattopadhyay hopes will become the base for exports to neighbouring countries. The company has been investing heavily in its production facilities, as Chattopadhyay explains: “All of our machinery is of European origin, even necessary spare parts are of European origin, to ensure a high standard is achieved. Conserveria Africana also has factories in Lagos Nigeria. We do not want to have massive scale manufacturing in one location, but we can plan to have these factories across the region because we can then deliver easily to the access point we want.” And connectivity is very important in each of these factories. “We have every factory installed with a video conferencing system and a CCTV monitoring system. With this technology we can see what is going on in each factory from one office or anywhere in the world.”
Technology also plays a part in Conserveria Africana’s supply chain management. Chattopadhyay explains: “We have our distribution partner companies. Those distribution vehicles have been set up with GPS so we can locate where the vehicles are and link up with our ordering and delivery systems. Our in-house software tracks ordering from the distribution hub or the storage hub and from there to the cluster distribution network. It tracks everything live and really helps us to make our operations successful.”
The market for Conserveria Africana’s products is on the rise, says Chattopadhyay. “Captive demand in western Africa is huge and it is continuously growing because of both organic and inorganic growth. Organic growth because the population is increasing; and we have emerging economies from other countries in west Africa, with Nigeria and Ghana particularly strong,” he adds. The company is also keenly looking at the markets in West and Central Africa.
Although the demand for Conserveria Africana’s products is strong, there are certain difficulties in operating across Africa, says Chattopadhyay. “Africa is not like other developed countries - there are a lot of challenges in the production in terms of accessibility of resources including services for machinery and spare parts. However, we are building up our own in house service facilities in small scale wherever possible”.
That said, Conserveria Africana is committed to Africa and recognises that each African country has its own quirks and personality. “Each country is different with its own culture so you cannot say there is just one Africa. So we study Africa, we mingle with the culture to see how the people behave, how they work and what business practices they follow,” says Chattopadhyay. “Our kind of structure is very, very important to be successful in Africa. There is no language barrier because most are Anglophone countries but understanding the different cultures is very, very important.”
Chattopadhyay is sure that Africa is where the best opportunities for growth can be found, and not just because the populations and economies are both rising. He says: “We can see not only the organic growth, which may be about five to six percent but also major opportunities coming from extending our product profiles, which means we might be seeing ten percent or higher double digit growth, possible down the line in two or three years.” The product innovation won’t just be in terms of new products, he says: “We are committed to the R&D and product development but also marketing development programmes and packaging development programmes. We are really optimistic for the future.” He goes on to explain that packaged products in Africa have largely consisted of canned and bottled food, but Conserveria Africana has really unlocked new methods of packaging its products. Chattopadhyay says: “We have introduced a tomato paste in a flexible pouch and consumers accepted it and that drive a change in buying behaviour. This will really create some excitement, not only in cost efficiencies but also the right delivery of the product to the consumer.”
Ensuring the company has the right people in place to maximise this growth is key for Chattopadhyay, who has a multinational team around him. “We’re a mixture – African and expat Indian, throughout the various division of manufacturing units,. Now, retaining talent in an African environment could be very difficult but our staff turnover is very low and this is because we have an excited work culture that bonds various department together. We recruit through world-renowned recruitment agencies with a presence in Africa, ensuring our people are among the best resources available; then we make sure they can adapt to our work culture, with a balance to their life and the family.”