Catherine Hembadoon Agbo is a Journalist and also Founder of Veda Foods and Beverages Ltd, Abuja. She talks to TMG about what prompted her to become a farmer, farm produce trader and entrepreneur.
TMG> Can you give us an insight into your background?
Catherine> I’m a native of Konshisha in Benue State. I have BA Linguistics from Benue State University, PGD Journalism from International Institute of Journalism, MA International Relations and Strategic Studies from Benue State University and MA Development Communication (in view) from Nasarawa State University.
TMG> How did you go from Journalism to the food industry?
Catherine> Nigeria is blessed with a lot of agricultural produce but sadly, most of what we produce goes to waste as we do not take full advantage of the agricultural value chain, which involves processing and packaging. I am also a farmer and I interact with other farmers so I get to see a lot of wastage of food produced with a lot of hard work as farming is not really mechanised around here yet.
So going into food processing and packaging was my way of adding value to what we have and taking advantage of a very large market. Our mission is to become a leading producer of traditional Nigerian foods in unique and diverse forms, with emphasis on value addition.
TMG: Did you go for professional classes or attend a business school & what credentials did you earn through the training?
Catherine> I would say I am self taught as I have not undergone any formal training in food processing and packing. I have done a few online courses on business development and marketing and also carried out a lot of research in my area of interest and I also have some professionals who work round the clock to give our customers the best value for their money.
Our product, Grainnuts Instant Cereal, is a traditional Nigerian food which we improved on. This did not require any formal training on my part. I, however, have access to a lot of resources that help increase my knowledge base in addition to the staff that work for the company, who are professionals in the food industry. The internet has been a wonderful resource. We constantly research new trends in our line of business and see how we can apply them to satisfy our customers.
TMG> How many employees report to you?
Catherine> We are a growing company with a current staff strength of five. We also rely on other service providers to do some of our work, especially in the area of supply, where we use delivery companies.
TMG> Apart from food processing business, what is your favorite cuisine to cook and why?
Catherine> My favourite cuisine is sea food okro soup. I eat sea foods a lot- fish, prawns, shrimps, clams etc and okro is one of my favourite soups.
TMG> What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
Catherine> I read a lot of literature in my areas of interest, do a lot of research, follow the news and keep up with experts in those areas.
TMG> What do you do to ensure the quality of your products?
Catherine> We maintain strict hygiene practice and carry out quality control checks on every single product before they are sent to the market. We also value honest feedbacks from our customers, whether positive or negative as they help us improve on our products. This is one of the ways we evaluate ourselves.
TMG> How do you test the quality of your ingredients?
Catherine> We source for the best farm produce to ensure the quality of our products. Grainnuts Instant Cereal is made from a selection of grains, legumes and nuts. The product aims to improve the quality of life of those who take it as it contains a wide variety of nutrients from the various components that are used to produce it so we ensure that only the best raw materials are used in the production. We take extra care to pick and wash our grains after they’re bought from the market, to remove all impurities and store properly in neat containers before processing.
TMG> Tell us about an accomplishment that you are most proud of in your career?
Catherine> One accomplishment I’m very proud of is starting Veda Foods and Beverages Ltd. The project was in the pipeline for many years before I was finally able to get it off the ground. I consider it one of my biggest achievements yet.
TMG> Describe to us a problem you had with an employee in the course of production and how you handled it?
Catherine> Problems arise with employees in the workplace every now and then but they are usually managed in a manner that the work does not suffer. One instance was when a certain employee, for inexplicable reasons, attempted to compromise standards but was found out.
TMG> Tell us about your management style and how you handle your Customers?
Catherine> My management style is somewhere between democratic and laissez-faire. Employees are given the opportunity to be creative and allow their ideas to flourish in their areas of expertise, while I provide guidance as needed. We consider our employees an integral part of our business and they are a part of the decision making process as their input is sought on issues where their expert knowledge has a role to play. Our customers are the reason we are in business so we try to satisfy them as best as we can and always attend to their complaints and feedbacks as they come. We are customer service oriented and maintain a customer first approach, following up on customers for their feedbacks.
TMG> Tell us 3 things that you consider to be your strengths as a business person?
Catherine> I would say my resilience, tenacity and focus.
TMG> Tell us something you would like to learn or improve upon in your business?
Catherine> Being a business person is a learning process. Every day presents a new challenge but what I will like to learn more about is proper record keeping and accounting. We are also trying to improve our social media presence especially on Instagram via our handle, @vedafoodsng.
TMG> What other things do you do as a business person?
Catherine> I am also a farmer and farm produce trader.
TMG> What are your challenges and how do you intend to handle them?
Catherine> Like every other small business, our major challenge is funding to get all the equipments we require for seamless production and packaging. We are applying for grants and loans tailored for our business, while we continue to reinvest our modest profits.
Another challenge is gaining acceptance in the market. Despite the buy made in Nigeria to grow the naira campaign, many people still have very little faith in locally made products while some are just fixated on the belief that anything foreign is better. We wish more Nigerians will patronise local businesses.
TMG> What other positions have you previously held before venturing into food processing?
Catherine> I am a journalist with over 10 years experience. I started my career at Leadership Newspapers Group Limited where I rose to the position of Editorial Director before I voluntarily resigned in 2017. I am currently Executive Editor at Daily Asset Newspaper.
TMG> Who are your role models and what inspired you about them?
Catherine> I have so many people I look up to, people who started small just like me, and have been able to grow their businesses to world-class conglomerates. My biggest role model is my mother. She’s one of the most hardworking women I know, who makes something out of nothing. She provided the platform for my first practical lessons in business.
TMG> What way can you encourage other youths not to depend on government for job but to be self dependent?
Catherine> Nigerian youths are creative and enterprising but the challenges they have to deal with make it diffucult for them to attain their full potential. Government jobs are an easy way out for many who do not have the resources to start up businesses of their own. Sadly, however, there are limited government jobs to mop up the army of unemployed youth in the country. Even the private sector cannot do much, so every young person must find something to do in spite of the challenges that exist, no matter how little. They must think out of the box also because there are some really nice business ideas that do not require so much money to start. They can start by providing services.
TMG> Do you have time to socialise and how?
Catherine> All work and no play isn’t good for the health so I take out time once in a while to go out with family and friends to unwind.