Olashile Abayomi, a renowned culinary expert and the Chief Executive Officer of Soupamarket, a commercial food company that delivers healthy, high quality, and delicious homemade Nigerians soups and stews to Nigerians of all classes, had a chat with our correspondent where she spoke on a broad range of issues concerning the food industry in Nigeria.
Soupamarket and the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic caused dramatic changes to economic, healthcare, transportation, food and other sectors all over the world. With these changes came the new reality that things will never go back to the “normal” that we used to know. With this in mind, every industry is finding ways to adjust and stay profitable amidst the varying impacts.
In the food industry in Nigeria, especially the cooked and processed food sector, the pandemic forced many business owners to shift focus from providing walk-in services to home delivery services. This adjustment has had a negative impact on many of these businesses as they struggle to keep up with the demands of home delivery.
However, the already existing home delivery service providers like Soupamarket that have been in the business for a few years have been able to manage the challenges that the pandemic threw at them. For Soupamarket, it wasn’t so bad. We already had an existing exclusive delivery service and that was what helped us. People already knew how keen we are about hygiene consciousness and trusted our brand to give them quality and fresh meals. So, people don’t need to come to us, we took their orders, processed and delivered unlike the generic walk-in restaurants where eat-in is the main focus.
Another change that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about is increased health and safety consciousness by the average Nigerian. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, many people still prefer to shop for their food items remotely, despite the easing of the lockdown. For this, they rely on vendors who prepare and deliver homemade meals, limiting physical interactions as much as possible. These companies adhere strictly to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, taking precautions like ensuring that the dispatch riders are COVID-19 free and training them on safety measures.
Specialized customer service
Food vendors like Soupamarket have played a critical role in ensuring ease and continuity of life for many Nigerians since the outbreak of corona virus especially for those who rely on them for regular upkeep. We take only orders we are sure we can deliver; we understand that preparing good food takes time and we don’t muddle up orders. We give each client exactly what they paid for, over-delivering on customer expectations. We literally sell convenience with the highest hygiene precautions needed along with COVID-19 protocols.
My passion for cooking and feeding people brought me the inspiration to start Soupamarket. I started by selling rice and stew outside our church premises. Realizing that people were more interested in the stew, I was inspired to start a stew and soup business, which today is Soupamarket. We serve young upwardly mobile single men and women who would rather use the cooking time for something else. In essence, Soupamarket sells convenience.
Over the years, I have organized different charity programs (as a person or as a foundation?) geared towards feeding the less privileged in the society. The motivation to do this came to me in November 2015 when I attended a conference Excellence In Leadership Conference and. The Holy Spirit Instructed me to start a street ministry to feed the poor and the underprivileged .. I call it #Soupastreetministry , I preach , we all have praise, worship and I feed everyone sumptuous meals for free.. This happens mostly in the ghettos and under bridges .. I later went on to fully register my foundation OLASHILE ABAYOMI HUNGER’S HERO FOUNDATION .. At first, people were a bit sceptical about my the #Soupastreetministry as some suspected that I might have some ulterior motives. However, years of activity and consistency have proven that I am indeed just passionate about helping people in the best way I know how to – through cooking which is one of my many talents.
The highlight of my charity project was going out of my way during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown to reach out to a lot of indigent people especially in the rural areas with food everyday. During the lockdown I’ve had to brace the storms to go to those who, for some reasons, were not reached by either state or federal government’s palliative efforts. For me, feeding the needy is an important aspect of my purpose and I do it through SOUPAMARKET. I am happy I was able to put a lot of smiles on their faces, and that’s the fulfilment for me, not that I expected praises or money in return.
The food chain as the way forward
Today, as the government continues to reopen businesses, a recent survey shows that consumers will continue to patronize home-cooked food, made specifically to their tastes, as a means of limiting physical interaction. This patronage is not limited to consumers who are observing COVID-19 protocols of social distancing, but includes the working-class Nigerians who currently work remotely and want to enjoy the mouth-watering sumptuousness of home-cooked meals.
Also, with everyone’s eyes on economic diversification, especially the call for promotion of non-oil commodities with agriculture being the key drivers, there is a serious need for Nigeria to look into the food supply chain and lend the industry as much support as is necessary.
The government will do well to help SMEs in all sectors especially those in the food processing and supply chain with grants and loans with single-digit interest rates. Also, these businesses need a moratorium period for small businesses to grow profitable before taxes are imposed on them. The government can strengthen partnerships with MSMEs across the different sectors of the economy, especially in the grassroots.