After 16 years in the United Kingdom, Deji Akinyanju returned home to found one of Nigeria’s most successful food retailers.“I felt driven to go back and make an impact,” he said on his decision to return home.”It was at the time of transition from military rule to democracy and I wanted to help build an entrepreneurial private sector.”
Today, 42 year old Akinyanju heads one of Nigeria’s fastest growing retail chains valued at about $120 million. With about $2 million (N320 million) in seed funding raised from family and friends, he initially had a franchise deal with Chicken Licken, South Africa but quickly established his own brand Chicken Republic. In 2003, he opened a bakery outlet, Butterfield Bakery (a South African brand), which soon became Nigeria’s largest bakery. Deji also own Reeds Thai Restaurant in Lagos and the St. Elmos Pizza franchise in Nigeria.
According to him, “we revolutionised the concept of buying international brands into Nigeria. Ever since then, new brands have come into the market. And we set the standard, changed the eating experience for Nigerians and introduced a friendlier, world-class ambience into food.”
He says that the market is being driven by the youth. “They want to associate themselves with modern brands and modern ways of eating.”
Since founding Chicken Republic he has grown it to over 70 outlets. When asked by CNBC earlier this year on how his business ventures became successful, he said, “When I started, I didn’t have much experience. If you have passion, the rest is easy to learn, but you can’t teach somebody to be passionate.”
However, success came with its burdens and challenges. In the early years, his company acquired quite a bit of debt to fund its expansion. “We had a strong cash flow but we also had obligations to banks and the business wasn’t profitable. We spent a lot servicing our debt.” In 2008, his company raised an additional $30 million to finance its expansion plans.
According to him, “There is still no strong brand across West Africa, so for instance if you were to go to Ghana you will find three stores run by a particular brand and if you were to go Ivory Coast, you may not find that brand in Ivory Coast, so we have this entire West coast market.”
Deji eventually plans to open three hundred Chicken Republic stores in Nigeria and a thousand Chicken Republic stores in Africa before 2013.
“Nigerian brands want to be global brands,” he says. “And why not? We have a lot of foreign brands in our market. If you apply the right principles, it doesn’t matter where you come from— you should be able to fly anywhere.”
Watch the video below where he talks about Food Concept/Chicken Republic’s expansion plans.
“We strongly believe that with all the tools, in funding and human resources, and proper backing in business, we certainly can do 300 to 500 stores in this country, because we see that there is a younger population, we all know that we have may be 70 percent of our population under the ages of 18, and is a growing population, a lot more people are eating out, so that cultural change is happening daily.”
This year, Food Concepts (parent company of his food retail brands) signed a $20 million investment deal with the International Finance Corporation (the IFC), to improve its safety and corporate standards, and to expand into Ghana.
In true entrepreneur style, despite his many ventures, Deji this year ventured into chicken farming, opening a chicken farm 200km out of Lagos. He aims on becoming the country’s largest poultry distributor. “There is an unbelievable shortage of chicken in the country,” he says. “The Nigerian market is three times as big as South Africa’s yet South Africa’s largest chicken factories produce 3 million birds a week. In Nigeria it is just 100,000.”
What do you think of Deji Akinwanju’s success as an entrepreneur in Nigeria’s food retail sector?