Tolaram: Evolution in Africa

Tolaram Group, a Singapore based conglomerate with a major presence in West Africa, first ventured into Nigeria in 1976 with humble beginnings, and has never looked back since.

We debuted in Nigeria as a trading company but quickly expanded into manufacturing and marketing of textiles, industrial goods and electronics, before moving on to concentrate on consumer goods.

Subsequently, we expanded into the rest of the continent by establishing businesses in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. We have since consolidated our focus on selected West African markets.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Our success story in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) began in 1988 when we introduced instant noodles to Nigerian taste buds. Noodles were a completely unheard of product in the country but that proved to be a competitive advantage due to our deep understanding of local consumer taste preferences.

Over time, our business flourished and from serving the market through imports, we set up three noodle manufacturing facilities, giving us a strong footing to remain as market leaders.

Paving the future as brand builders

Yet Tolaram was not content with just being noodle producers. We aspired and became brand builders for the Indomie brand of instant noodles, which has grown to become the generic identity of instant noodles for Nigerians.

Embarking on our vision to be a leading African FMCG company, and building on our success as brand builders, we have since introduced new products to our stable. We now command a substantial market share with brands like Power pasta and cooking oil, Minimie snacks, and Hypo domestic bleach. And we have more exciting and innovative products in the pipeline that will soon enter the market. This has further entrenched us as a reputable FMCG company.

Building a conglomerate

Over the years, Tolaram in Africa has progressed on a path of vertical integration. Upstream, more than 90 per cent of the inputs of our flagship noodle business is self-produced by captive units comprising two flour mills, an oil refinery, a flexible packaging plant and a seasoning plant. Similarly, downstream integration is accomplished through our fully owned logistics, sales, distribution and retailing companies.

Given our longstanding presence in Nigeria and our deep understanding of the West African terrain, we have subsequently ventured into new businesses in the energy, digital services and infrastructure domains.

The inadequacy of power supply in Africa was evident and it was a compelling opportunity for the group to invest in the sector. Using Nigeria as the entry point, we became established in the field of EPC contracts for power transmission and distribution after the successful execution of projects in the energy sector. Particularly, we are ranked with some of the top multinational contractors qualified to undertake 330kV substation projects, which is the highest system voltage in Nigeria.

With planning and research, we selected strategic markets for growth and have since expanded our presence to other African nations. Power generation will soon be in the pipeline for our expansion.

In 2011, recognising the lack of an organised and reliable source of local information, Tolaram decided to launch our digital services business under the brand VConnect, an online platform which provides a veritable source of business information to individuals and companies in Nigeria.

To date, there are over a million verified listings to provide information about various products, services, small- and medium-sized enterprises. It is a huge success and has received accolades from the media and public. Most recently, VConnect won the Best Mobile Information product recognition award by Nigeria’s Records and Information Management Awareness Foundation in 2013.

Opportunities are aplenty in Africa and one simply needs to seize the opportunity at the right time and work hard for it. A major milestone in our Africa journey is our involvement in key infrastructure projects, the Lekki Deep Sea Port and the Lagos Free Trade Zone.

Lekki is the first port in Nigeria to be privately built. It is the country’s largest port, and offers the biggest potential container footprint and accessibility facilities for larger shipping vessels, than any port in the region. The project is worth US$1.5 billion and is estimated to generate over 150,000 jobs in Nigeria. The port will be within our very own Lagos Free Trade Zone in Lagos, Nigeria, which is strategically located to facilitate trade and boost the economy of the exponentially growing metropolis as well as neighbouring countries in Africa.

Africa’s time has come and most, if not all, leading private sector players have realised this fact. A young population with increasing spending power and leapfrogging developments in the information and communication arena will set the stage for future African growth and Tolaram Group is well placed to participate in this growth story.

 

 

 

NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies

 

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