It is a busy day at AACE Food Processing & Distribution Limited nested off Ijoko Road in Sango Ota, Ogun State. The senior management team have just completed their morning meeting, and production is already in full gear in the factory, with a bee-hive of activity in the spice and soya maize lines. What started as an idea in the mind and hearts of Mezuo and Ndidi Nwuneli, ten years ago, to address the high rates of post-harvest losses and malnutrition in Nigeria, reduce dependency on imports and improve the lives of smallholder farmers, is now a full-blown operation, managed by a dynamic team.
From inception, the founders of AACE Foods committed to “providing nutritious and tasty food made from the best of West Africa’s cereals, grains, herbs and vegetables,” as clearly articulated in their mission statement. They recruited a proudly Nigerian team with over 50% women and youth. In addition, they invested in building a local supply chain as their key competitive advantage, training smallholder farmers and ensuring that they could meet the sourcing standards of the company. To-date, the company sources chili, ginger, garlic, turmeric, maize, soyabeans and a range of other products from 10,000 farmers in rural communities across West Africa and has also facilitated their access to microfinance and provided them with storage technology. This direct relationship has enabled AACE to build reliable sources of raw materials for its range of products, and clear traceability which is critical for building trust with local and international customers.
The company has also introduced 18 retail products to the Nigerian market, has a strong relationship with leading FMCGs and retailers, and is recognized as a catalyst in the spice and seasonings industry, proving that proudly Nigerian products can thrive in local and global landscapes. Its products are sold in open air markets and retail chains across Nigeria, including Shoprite, Spar, Game, Hubmart and Ebeano. It has also exported bulk products to the Netherlands and the United States, demonstrating the potential export value of local spices, seasonings and flours. According to Vivian Maduekeh, the Nigeria program manager for Partners in Food Solutions, “It is encouraging to work with a company that is committed to developing the local economy in which it operates, and in the nutritional composition of its products.”
AACE Foods has also invested in fighting malnutrition in Nigeria through its complementary food products including Soyamaize, a complete meal fortified with vitamins and minerals. The company donates these products to children in internally displaced camps across Nigeria, in partnership with leading nonprofits organizations such as Slum2School. It has also worked with NGOs such as Adopt a child, Orbus global, QCAT International, Africare Nigeria and government agencies such as Borno State Government to reduce the high levels of under-five mortality and ensure the development of healthy children in the country. AACE’s Our Mama Program has empowered Women to become micro-entrepreneurs and provided them with financial support and training that will enable them break free from poverty to achieve their highest potentials.
Over the past ten years, the business has benefited from the support and partnership of international organizations including the African Diaspora Marketplace, Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), West African Food Markets (WAFM), Business Innovation Facility, 2SCALE-IFDC, Partners in Food Solutions, and Innovations Against Poverty. These partners have supported AACE Foods on projects aimed at increasing local food production and exports, the improvements of farmer livelihoods, child nutrition, and helping women start up small scale businesses, as distributors of AACE products. Terry Lacey, a member of the West Africa Food Markets Team indicated that “AACE Foods is a great example of an innovative processed food producer which targets new markets, devises new distribution systems and finances new ideas from its own resources.”
In addition, the company has received notable awards including the Sisterhood Awards for “Made in Nigeria Product of the Year – 2016” given by WIMBIZ and Ebonylife Television, Business Day recognition for “Most Innovative Companies in Nigeria – 2017” and the London Stock Exchange Group Companies to “Inspire Africa” in 2019. Reflecting on these awards, Temitope Jebutu, the General Manager of AACE Foods remarked – “Our modest success has been built on integrity, accountability, competence, and consistency in delivering quality products, and a commitment to continuous improvement. We are proud of the impact that we have made in the Country and we are excited about the next chapter in our history!”
AACE Foods is well positioned for an exciting future, as it plans on introducing a range of healthy and ready to eat snacks in early 2020 and expanding its retail and international footprint, with the support of a range of partners. With every passing year, a commitment to innovation and excellence, it plans to be one step closer to its vision of becoming, “the preferred provider of food for West Africans, thereby contributing significantly to the improved livelihoods of our farmers and nutritional status of our people.”