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Shift to Local - The Next Step for Nigerian Hospitality

It is a new year, and just like that, the opportunity for new ideas, new businesses, and reinvention. The Nigerian hospitality industry, still in its teething phase, is expanding rapidly with restaurants, bars and hotels opening every month. Yet, if we ask ourselves if places are opening with sustainability and longevity in mind, that is a question for another day. The Dollar to the Naira is getting further apart, and more than ever, being economical is what separates the successful to the failures.

We are exporting very little and importing too much. I know I cannot be the only one tired of items being out of stock, menu options being too expensive and restaurants opening and closing quicker than government turnover. How can we turn this around in F&B? By celebrating local; investing in our farmers and creating more dishes with our ingredients and livestock.


Import Less

This is not an economics blog; yet we must understand the simple way things work. Imports are expensive and fluctuate against the exchange rate. Too many restaurants have import heavy menus and that is why they are not able to meet expectations. Either they are constantly out of stock because they can't afford to ship items to meet customer demand, or they are having to increase prices to the point the item is no longer affordable. Another concern is that businesses spend too much international currency on imported furniture/decor as well as expatriate staff; yet not enough local currency on skilled labour such as local artisans, decorators and restaurant consultants. What we see is too much money spent on imports, and owners cutting costs in other areas by providing lacklustre food, beverage and experience/service. This has to change.


Utilise Local Ingredients

With that being said, importing less means finding local alternatives. It is not as hard as one might think. We are a very rich land filled with vegetation and livestock. We have pigs, cows, goats, poultry and some of the most beautiful and globally recognised seafood in the world. We have crops and grains, fruits and vegetables. Yet we import too many items we can substitute, if we learn how to optimise them. The problem is too many restaurants are pushing foreign menus where in Europe for example, such items are readily available. The worst part is when you order an item and you can tell it's been in the freezer for months! I must tell you, it is very possible to create upscale and international inspired dishes with local and fresh ingredients. And establishments who understand this will attract international attention. Nok and The Ona are fantastic examples of this. They proudly call themselves restaurants that works with local ingredients.


Nok - Peanut Crusted Fried Chicken, Sweet Potato Pancakes

Understand our Seasonal Calendar

As a nation we don't like change. But little by little we are coming into grips with having some adjustments here and there. I do think there comes a time in menu conception for knowledge and wisdom in resources available all year round to seasonal items. The worst thing you can do is have a product that isn't in season on your menu and having to keep telling customers the item is not available.

For example, mango is not a fruit that grows all year, but when it does, it is beautiful. So this could be a lovely seasonal ingredient for specials of the month when it is in season and also allows you to bring fresh innovative dishes to your restaurant every few months.

We must also work with the country as a whole and understand that if we come together we can assist the overall supply chain of ingredients. Jos is a fantastic area for a wide variety of fruits. You do not need to depend on imported fruits when we have local contenders. Itan Test Kitchen works with seasonal menus, partnering with local suppliers to showcase our Nigerian culinary heritage.


Itan - Interpretations of Yam, Efo -riro, Guinea fowl and Short Rib

If it is so Easy, Why aren't we Progressing?

In the end if we really loved our country and its people, we would want to benefit from as much international demand as possible and benefit from export opportunities. Imagine a world where you see Jos berries on the shelves of international supermarkets. Or scotch bonnet oil locally made in Nigeria sold all around the world. Or tourists flying to Nigeria to experience our culinary world. This is a dream we must start taking seriously, and it begins with creating a standard for ourselves in the industry. If we utilise our produce more, and show customers how valuable they are, naturally this demand would spread. Chefs are doing a fantastic job of showing the value in our food; from iru butters, to egusi pesto, if we show the spectrum of how our food is, we can export these to the world and profit off it.

Caring about customer experience and quality offering should be prioritised but too many establishments would rather do the bare minimum and charge extortionate prices. What businesses fail to understand is the long term gains from thinking sustainably. Investing local will reduce variable costs and money can go towards providing unique and immersive experiences. With that, guests wouldn't mind paying a premium and businesses would last so much longer.

There is a lot to challenge with this topic. . From requesting government tariffs to limiting our import dependancy to individuals pressuring establishments to change, we must push for a restructuring of mindsets in the industry.




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