Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and Dictachi Foods as a brand you represent?
I am Benedicta Nkemdilim Elechi, from Awka in Anambra state. I’m in my mid thirties and I am a graduate of Analytical Chemistry, from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Dictachi Foods is my brainchild. Growing up, I was fascinated by the science and technology involved in food production and even wrote my final thesis in the university on preservatives used in yoghurt production. The name Dictachi was derived from combining the last 5letters of my name Benedicta with ‘Chi’ which in Ibo means GOD.
2. How did you get started in Business and what did it take you to get to where you are today?
Like I stated earlier I wrote my thesis on the quantity of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate used in the commercial production of yoghurt in Nigeria, as against the level approved by the world health organization. The discoveries I made, gave rise to the insatiable need for me to produce yoghurt that meets world standards for the Nigerian market. However, shortly after my NYSC, I did a detailed market survey and production research bringing me to the realization that I did not have the financial capability to bankroll such a production facility, so I settled for catering, which was my second choice.
I started by catering at home for friends, family, relatives and neighbours, right from my home where I employed 7 members of staff. This phase in Dictachi Foods history lasted for about 3 years. Shortly afterwards we were forced, by the increase in our clientele to move to our factory premises, which I had been constructing from the proceeds of my home catering business and support from family members. When we moved to the factory site we could now afford to accommodate my initial dream of owning a Food processing company, so we started phase two of the Dictachi Foods story by launching our yoghurt production line. From the initial commercial success of the yoghurt produce, we were able to build phase 3, which was driven by the demands of our ever growing clientele for bakery and confectionery products. The increase in demand for our yoghurt products in different parts of the country led us to opening depots all over key cities in Nigeria, in line with our vision to become a globally recognized food company of African origin.
3. Did you know you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along, or did it happen by chance?
From as early as I can remember, I have always wanted to own my own enterprise. I was greatly inspired by Nasco biscuits, wafers and cornflakes as a child and this spurred the notion of business ownership in me. By my university days I had playfully earned nicknames like ‘female Dangote’ or ‘female Bill Gates’ from my peers.
4. The Food and confectionery industry is a capital intensive industry that requires the highest preparation standards and being able to keep up with the customers ever changing taste buds. What are some of your success secrets to building a successful food production platform like Dictachi Foods?
At Dictachi Foods we do not follow the bandwagon; we stay true to our concept, bearing in mind the ever increasing need to maintain our already high standards to enable us compete in a dynamic market. Because the company is in its formative years, coupled with the burning passion I have to grow the business to the next level, I find myself investing as much as 80% of our proceeds back into the organization and as you may be aware the banking industry in Nigeria is quite unfriendly to small and medium scale businesses making sourcing of funds a herculean task.
5. Considering the ever growing demand for healthy option products, as more and more people are trying to manage their weights with less fats and sugars. How does Dictachi Foods plan to keep up with this trend?
We have always been very health conscious at Dictachi Foods since inception, partly due to the fact that I am a fitness buff and also because I am aware of the risks of using unauthorized food additives with respect to the standards set by the Nigerian regulatory agencies. For instance all Dictachi products are NAFDAC certified. The high standards of Dictachi Foods can furthermore be attributed to the detailed in house quality control we set in place. And we have included low calorie, low fat and low sodium options in our products to satisfy dietary and specific needs of our esteemed customers.
6. Dictachi Foods currently has a product range consisting of four flavours of yogurt and its famous coconut bread. Are there any plans to expand the product range anytime soon and also do you have plans to roll out Dictachi Foods’ franchise opportunities across Nigeria any time soon?
We are currently looking for investors, as we already have laid out plans for both a carbonated drink and biscuit line up, and we are also looking at franchising in the near future.
7. What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur?
I dictate my own hours; I also love the challenges and surprises brought about by the dynamism of production. It has not always been like this though. When we first started I could not afford to leave the site for more than a few hours at a go, it was my waking up, and my rising of the sun encompassing my entire day. Due to the peculiarity of the Nigerian business environment I also had to learn a lot on the job and I added a few business courses to my credit.
8. What keeps you and the Dictachi Foods team motivated? How do you envision Dictachi Foods in 5-10years from now?
My love and passion for cooked and processed foods combined with my enthusiasm to expand my business is my primary motivation. Other things that motivate me include setting a standard for Nigerian women and other entrepreneurs, as well as providing a national service through job creation and youth employment.
I am very excited about the future of Dictachi Foods, I see diversification, more opportunities for job creation and branching out further into sub Saharan Africa.
9. What is it about Dictachi Foods that sets your business apart from other confectionery businesses out here in Nigeria?
First of all we are not a profit oriented business; I for one sometimes go without a salary so I can re-invest. Due to the high cost implication of production in Nigeria many business owners are often tempted to ‘cut corners’ by using substandard material, thus depreciating the quality of their products. However at Dictachi we NEVER compromise our standards so our quality is always uniform.
10. The Nigerian business scene is not for the faint hearted, if you had to sell doing business in Nigeria in a few words to an investor, what would they be?
Nigeria is the world’s best kept secret, quantum opportunities abound. The colours of the flag showcase the greenness, the virginity and the promise of the land.
11. What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
You must be persistent, you have to believe in yourself and in what you are doing, and no matter what people say to discourage you, don’t give up on your dreams.
12. Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
A Fictional character Emma Harte from Barbara Taylor Bradford’s ‘A woman of substance’. This might sound funny but my intense love for movies made them a source of inspiration and motivation for me.
13. What was the BIGGEST risk you’ve taken?
Going into yoghurt business remains my biggest risk, and then diversifying into bakery and confectionery with almost 100% of my proceeds from the yoghurt business without any bank or family support simply crowned it all.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
Primary and secondary education is paramount; however a college degree should be considered an optional extra as many successful entrepreneurs didn’t pass through college. The biggest entrepreneurs I have done business with in Nigeria don’t have a university degree and I learnt a lot more from them than from my college education.
15. What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Dream big, start small and grow fast.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here