Monday, September 16, 2013

Tanzania Food Processing: Let’s Get Competitive!

Agricultural Development policies across Africa are designed to increase production thereby jacking up farmer incomes.  Another way of looking at it is finding ways to encourage agricultural buyers to buy more. Buyers are in business and will buy more if they can sell more.  And they will sell more if the market considers their products have good value.
The question of products with good value strikes a constant theme in my house. I do consulting work on development and Agriculture. My wife does consulting on food and catering. We talk about the quality of products constantly and I thought a quick informal quality appreciation of the locally available products would be interesting. We live in Tanzania but I am sure other African countries could come up with a similarly diverse list.  At our house we buy Tanzanian as a matter of course but between the two of us also have a good familiarity with what is available on international shelves.
Here are ten products in no particular order. Join in and give your critique:
Yogurt: The yogurt market in Tanzania is quite substantial, perhaps demand rooted from a tradition of cultured milk. Despite this it seems the Kenyans have a very significant part of Tanzanian market share; particularly the higher-end market. And when you buy yogurt you understand why. Tanzanian brands are show quality variations from month to month that the Kenyan brands don’t. Especially in the viscosity, the thickness. We have the cows, we have the milk but not yet the yogurt.
Chili Sauce: I have been testing Tanzanian chili sauces since 1996 and used to be surprised there weren’t better choices. Lately however this has changed. Now there is a true blistering pili-pili worthy of the name. There seems to be still some variation in consistency between the different packaging but the 325g glass bottle, including its labeling, is a world class product. I would call this an ingredient type product, rather than a condiment which lowers the shelf value somewhat but basically salable anywhere in the world if the price is competitive.
Juice: In the past few years Tanzania has shown some improvement in Juice production and Tanzanian Juice producers are winning back market here at home from Kenyans and international brands. Congratulations and this is good news for farmers too. These juices, I don’t believe, are yet of a quality to be very competitive outside Tanzania but the local market is big and with improvement getting regional and international market will soon become feasible. 
Cheese: It seems our cheese producers in Tanzania are focusing on the high end market, including tourists, and this is probably the right strategy, but their products don’t compete with the quality of imported cheese. To succeed in this niche a product needs to be recognizable (by taste) and nameable – not simply a sandwich slice. If you want to produce sandwich slices you need a high volume business. It would seem almost that our cheese producers are so happy to produce any cheese they put it out on the market before formulating competitive product. However I am sure quality is feasible.
Honey: Tanzanian honey is an interesting example in the food processing industry. We are talking here of small grower and wild collection honeys of which there are a number of processors especially around Tabora. These products are generally of a high enough standard to be saleable to a wider market. However the many brands are in competition locally and the invariably use poor packaging and amateur type labeling. This is a cul de sac unless they can achieve some cooperation and mutual branding.
Jam: Some of the top Tanzania food processors are in the jam business but to my taste their products are overly sweet and very low end. We do have a Jam processor looking at a higher level of quality that also produces an impressive selection of varieties. The packaging, when in the glass jars, is striking and imaginative and product as a whole I would say ready for the big leagues. Except quality control at this company doesn’t stack up. Every other grape jam has seeds and rinds turn hard in the marmalade far too often. Too bad as otherwise these jams are competitive with top quality in the top markets .
Ketchup: In Tanzania we are shifting from a post colonial bright red tomato sauce to a deeper, thicker, ketchup more similar to the world standard. Our products are getting to be a very acceptable quality and perhaps only lack a point of difference to be easily marketable. Such a point of difference might be hard to find and ketchup might be difficult to market on its own outside a bouquet ofother products.
Chutney: Chutneys from small, home kitchen, operations flourish on Tanzanian supermarket shelves. In general these products are very acceptable. However I haven’t had one that is so superior it could make its own way in the bigger world where the mass produced chutneys are also very acceptable. 
Mushrooms: Oyster Mushrooms are grown in a number of places in Tanzania. I know of two or three groups in the North. I sometimes buy their product dried in the supermarkets. It’s quite as good as the Vietnamese which you can find worldwide. However the Tanzanian version is invariably packed and packaged in a way that emphasizes it’s not a professional operation. With mushrooms that can make the customer very worried.
Peanut Butter: It’s a strange phenomenon but peanut butter is almost a food group unto itself in North America. Consumption is astronomical. The product however is mass produced and wholly inferior to almost every brand of Tanzanian product. Though I believe this is true of a number of African counties the product here is better than world class. Unfortunately peanut butter is not boutique. It’s not sold under designer labels like jam, so the market may be more difficult to crack. But the quality is there without a doubt
Looked at as a group it seems Tanzanian Food Processing is doing a reasonable job. Readers please send your comments if you disagree. On the local market the frequency that foreign trade marks are seen and preferred implies there is work to be done. Perhaps more interesting in economic potential is that Tanzania has some products almost ready to move into the world class status. A little effort and jam, peanut butter or chili sauce could break the local ceiling and go global. The volumes implied by an international brand in citrus based jams for instance would transform the subsector and boost small growers incalculably. But at present Tanzania seems that one small step short of rising to its own quite evident potential.

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