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.
Today, we will be talking with Debo Adebayo, CEO & Founder of Tomi’s Treats
- Can you tell us a little bit about Debo Adebayo, the individual, entrepreneur and Tomi’s Treats as a brand you represent?
I am a Chartered Chemical Engineer and previously to Tomi’s Treats I worked in the Oil & Gas industry. I am a simple, family oriented person with a large extended family. I am happiest when surrounded by my family and close friends. I am married with 3 children and my daily schedule basically revolves around work and my kids. My main hobbies are cooking and reading. Cooking relaxes me and I always have my nose buried in a book. I am currently on a health challenge trying to achieve my pre baby figure by exercising and healthy eating.
Tomi’s Treats is an Organic Food company. We manufacture fruit and vegetable purees in colourful pouches with a child safety cap. Our products are certified by the Organic Soil Association – the largest Organic certification body in the UK and are suitable for preschoolers from age 6 months upwards. Tomi’s Treats is a health brand. According to experts, some of the benefits of Organic Foods include reduction in childhood asthma, autism and cancers.We are focused on providing healthy and tasty nutrition to children. Our products are part of the recommended 5 fruit/veg a day allowance for children
- Before Tomi’s Treats kicked off, you worked as a Process Engineer/Project Manager, can you share with us the inspiration behind the Tomi’s Treat Brand?
I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur but I was unsure about which aspect of business I should go into. Also working in a technical field, I didn’t feel confident enough to try something different, as I had no experience in business. In order to gain business knowledge, I enrolled in an MBA. During this period I found out I was pregnant with my first child, Tomi. As a first time mother, I fell completely in love and knew that any business I did had to be children related. I took Tomi to Nigeria to visit his grandparents but could not find any indigenous organic food to buy in the supermarkets. So when I went back to the UK for my MBA, I decided to follow this idea and write up Tomi’s Treats as a business plan and the rest as they say is history
- What drives you?
My children drive me. They drive me to be a better person both professionally and personally. How can I raise them to be good people with strong morals if I don’t behave in that manner? How can I encourage them to be hardworking, diligent and focused with whatever career path they choose, if I don’t practice that? They drive everything I do.
- Tomi’s Treats currently manufactures its products in the EU at the moment? Do you have plans to produce locally in Nigeria anytime soon?
Long-term, our vision is to source and manufacture our product in the African region. Currently we are speaking to a number of suppliers/producers who we believe will be able to give the quality we are looking for.
- A lot of African parents still have a preference for imported food supplements for their babies from known foreign brands, what has the reception being like with Tomi’s Treats and how do you plan to win your buyers over?
The responses we have received on the product have been really positive. The real challenge has been raising awareness because a lot of people still don’t know what our product is and the health benefits of organic baby food. From the feedback that we are getting, a lot of children love the product and we are steadily increasing our loyal band of customers. We supply to specific markets/supermarkets and also have some customers who come to us directly because the price is more competitive.
- The market is flooded with cheap mass imports, how do you plan to stay affordable without losing quality standards?
It is a tricky situation, not all families will be able to afford our product. We are working on ways to reduce our price without compromising our quality. We feel that not enough babies and children are eating healthy foods, getting fruit and vegetables into their diets early on in life is the best way to help children understand that health is wealth. Our aim is to make Tomi’s Treats affordable to everyone but with cost and quality issues this can never be a simple solution but we are prepared to give it a go.
- Are there plans to add other products lines to the Tomi’s Treats brand for babies?
We are about to launch two new product lines namely Strawberry & Plum along with Sweet Potato & Carrot this month. We are also in the product development phase for a further two lines and are at the concept stage for some other lines.
- The Agricultural Industry is currently experiencing a boost and it has been said that there is no better time to take advantage of the changes being experienced in the sector, from your perspective what are those things that food manufacturers like you need, to fully enjoy the benefits of doing business in Nigeria?
For Tomi’s Treats, we need more awareness on what organic food is and its benefits. We need a Nigerian Organic Certification body endorsed by our Agriculture Industry bringing together suppliers, producers and consumers.
- Would you take up manufacturing in Nigeria if the opportunity arose or do you plan to keep producing in the EU for standardization sake?
As I mentioned before it is part of our long-term goals to manufacture in this region. I am a chemical engineer by profession and I have designed production and utility systems for the Oil & Gas industry. It is a major goal of mine to design and construct a facility for Tomi’s Treats and to ensure that quality wise we remain at the top of our game.
- You have been in business with Tomi’s Treats for a while now, what are some of those business lessons you’d like to share with upcoming business people?
Traffic is the number one challenge; you sometimes spend the whole day in traffic, which can be a colossal waste of man-hours. As we have global suppliers, we rely on the Internet so electricity has also been a challenge. In Nigeria you have to learn good time management, so for instance if I know that I’m going to be in traffic for a long time, I usually take my laptop and work from my car.
What I can also say is that the African market is unpredictable. You can read all the books you want on marketing & sales but what I have learnt is that consumers want, think and act in different ways.
- Some say doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, if you had to describe your journey in the business world to a foreign investor or those in the Diaspora who want to relocate to start up their business, what words of wisdom would share with them?
I think its better to try and fail than playing it safe. It’s also important to create as soft a landing as possible for yourself. You must have a plan of action or you end up being frustrated. Even if doors slam in your face, keep your eye on the ball. Remain focused and think long-term, plant your seeds and you will reap your rewards in the end. When it comes to my business I live by the words ‘ a goal without a plan is just a wish ’.
- Looking back at your journey with Tomi’s treats, are there things you would have done differently if you had the chance to start all over again?
I have made some mistakes during this journey and yes you do feel that some things should have been done slightly differently. However I am a firm supporter that experience is the best teacher so I do not believe in looking back. I like to learn from my mistakes and move forward.
- How do you keep your team motivated and where do you envision Tomi’s Treats in 5-10years from now?
It’s important that every member of the Tomi’s Treats team understands our objectives and shares our vision. We have a round table approach where every team members voice and opinion is heard. Every member feels valued.
Our vision is growth into many countries with multiple products.
- What are your thoughts on college education when it comes to the journey of entrepreneurship, should people still pursue college education, considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education?
As you mentioned, some of the most successful entrepreneurs did not have a college education. They had an idea that they believed in and they followed it through to be hugely successful businesses. I think everyone gets their entrepreneurship kick at different phases in their life and I can only speak about my entrepreneurship journey. I am in manufacturing because I studied chemical engineering. I also didn’t have the confidence to start my own business until I began studying for an MBA, so college education benefitted me hugely at the start of my journey.
- Lastly, 30 years from now, what are those things you want to talk about when the name Debo Adebayo is mentioned in the business world?
Passionate about healthy nutrition for children, the Tomi’s Treats brand, Organic growth in Nigeria, healthcare and education for children in Nigeria, increase of female engineers, equal opportunities for women in business/work environments.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here