By Agatha Emeadi
Durodola Omolewa Kuteyi is the Managing Director of Spectra Industries Limited, a processed food products company which he started by processing and packaging plantain chips. Over the past 30 years, the range of products produced by the company has grown. When he recently turned 70, he sat down for a chat and recalled significant moments in his 40-year sojourn in entrepreneurship.
From the history of Spectra Industries Limited, one would think the company focuses only producing processed food products. What else would you have loved to do apart from food business?
I find this field interesting and there was no need to start looking for what will be difficult for me to get myself into again; if one already has a line which has been mastered, why bother to try other things? There was no need of trying my hands in other things, looking for what would be difficult for me again. While in the university, in the Department of Food Science and Technology at University of Ife, I started thinking and trying out some things, like making orange and pineapple juices and yoghurt. I also participated in the food week which we held every year. We would make different foods and invite guests and lecturers. During the Food Week, I was able to display the yoghurt that I made and put them in small cups. I saw that people liked what I presented, which they considered to be superior. I discovered that the one I labelled ‘A’ sold out first before ‘B’ and ‘C’.
What does Spectra do?
Spectra is a mixed grill that has grown from its early days when we started frying plantain chips with a pot and burner to this present day where a world class factory is churning out quality products that are globally competitive. We have been able to create a success story that has altered the competitive landscape of food processing and manufacturing in Nigeria. We have in the process built globally competitive brands that are attracting international recognition.
Compared to the youths of this generation, what pre-occupied your mind as a youth?
I schooled in the village and all we were exposed to was going to the farm after school. All one would think about was what to do at the farm or how to dodge the farm and play football, play around and ride a bicycle. Sometimes, we rode bicycles to cover about five kilometers in the village. We weren’t thinking of harming anybody, having ostentatious lifestyle or get-rich-quick schemes. Not at all. In secondary school, we were not exposed to travelling abroad or use of computers. For us, it was just reading our books, cutting grasses in school or at home. There were a lot of class work in the school. We just didn’t have the time for frivolities.
The name of the company is quite interesting. How did you come up with the name?
No, I came across spectra in physics, when I was in secondary school. Spectra is supposed to be a ray of light separated into seven colours which literarily translated is like taking one raw material, one machine and making several products. Though it was a study in school, but with time it later appeared to me as a dream which I developed by myself. Though we operated with an initial brand known as ‘Betamark’ which we used to do plantain chips and other products before Spectra. It means taking one raw material into one machine to make several products.
You started with yoghurt and added other products. How did that happens?
It is the raw material that determines what we do.
What raw materials are available and where?
Most agricultural raw material that grow in Nigeria can be processed. What we did was to take a few and process for our use. Our concentration was what was readily and immediately obtainable to be produced with the raw materials available; even though we still use sugar in some of our products, it is imported till date, but it will be suicidal to import sugar and other raw materials for our products. Availability of raw material is our key breakthrough.
What other challenges have you faced in the past 30 years and how did you surmount them?
It was good for us initially but very bad as well too; it was good because the company could quickly make noise. But we were challenged by not having the monopoly of the business as a lot of people came into the business. The boy that fabricated our machine threw it into the open market and commercialized it for Tom, Dick and Harry. The multinationals also gave us challenges because they produced their beverages in big containers of 450 and 900gs, and mallams were dispensing it in tied cellophane bags but when our own products hit the market, we crashed the market and sold at 50k neatly presented. All manner of allegations came with it but it did not go far. However, we succeeded by the type of machine we bought, which produced single sachets; we were also displaced with the machines the multinationals brought in. Now, we produce the way other industries produce. Again, we spent some time on the farm growing plantain for our chips then.
As a member of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, where should government come in for SMEs?
Tax should be graduated and at a point should be free. Then as the company grows, it could also be increased at a reduced rate depending on the level of taxes. That is the way the tax should be applied. Not that tax would be used to prevent small scale industries from growing. Most importantly, as long as government cannot guarantee protection of SMEs, it means the government is killing the SME. When farmers who have taken loans are being attacked by Boko Haram and bandits, where would they get money to pay the banks because they cannot challenge their abductors who would kill them when they resist their mission. Dead bodies cannot repay bank loans. Meanwhile, agro-industries depend on the farmers and when these farmers do not produce, what do we do? The grains are not supposed to be exported until values are added. Again, most SMEs in Nigeria operate under harsh business environment where they are virtually left unprotected by the government, exposed to unfair competition from the multinationals, frustrated by harsh financial terms by bank as well as multiple layers of tax and other sundry charges by various levels of the government.
Where would you like to see Spectra in the next 10 years?
In 10 years to come, I would be 80 years and be watching films of our achievement in the small-scale industry. We, therefore, need to coach other people so they will catch the vision and understand the dream. But note that in the next five years, there will be a lot of modernization to make things work easier and faster. Sometimes whatever that we see in Spectra is what I perceive the way it should be. This means that we are getting to a stage of making everything to run on the machine and no longer from my head, instead programmed in a machine to run.