It was once said that a man passed by a heap of sand and waved it away as mere sand; while another passed by and realized that it was an important material in the building industry which could fetch enormous income. Cassava production in Nigeria is as old as life itself. Unfortunately, its uses had never gone past the usual production of garri, fufu, or topioca. Now, with Cassanovas, a German company has introduced the use of cassava in another way . In this interview, Mr. Thomas Hirsch, the Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Ring West Africa unveils the ingenuity of the enterprise.
1. WHAT inspired you to start Cassanovas Cassava Chips in Nigeria, and why the name “CASSANOVAS”?
From the economic standpoint it’s a fact that Nigeria is the biggest cassava producer world-wide and the downstream process is still very poor here therefore it offers great opportunities. From a private standpoint my wife is Nigerian. So I know the Country and its uniqueness since over 20 years. Cassanovas can be read like Cassava and nova (new or star). Defiantly we make something new with the Cassava and yes we want to shine like a star. Our claim is: Cassanovas the irresistible taste! On the other hand we wanted to add some spice in our name and claim for all the “free thinkers”.
2. What was your journey like to get to where you are?
The journey started actually several years ago when I first tasted cassava chips in the Far East. I brought some samples back for friends and family as a present as I enjoyed the crispiness myself from the first bite. Everyone was the same hooked like me and lamented that’s it’s a pity that they are not available in Germany. After some time I said to myself maybe I just found something what everyone likes but isn’t available in Germany. Prior registration of the firm early 2015 in Abuja Nigeria I invested 3 solid years planning and this is now our great strength. So despite some unforeseen small delays here and there the journey is full of excitements.
3. What is the biggest strength of Cassanovas Cassava Chips right now?
Like I said one of our biggest strength is that we have a solid short, medium and long term plan and this eases the decision making process. Secondly we are not shy to ask for help. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel as there is great expertise available for almost everything. For example our Head of Production is from Asia and he has over 20 years’ experience in the cassava chips manufacturing. He is a great asset to our Firm, having the needed QC knowledge and therefore helps developing human recourse. Despite he shortened our overall product learning curve tremendously. But most important we were able to form a solid management team which is dedicated and in high spirit.
4. How do you see the company changing in three years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Three years is a good figure as we just signed a PPP (Puplic Private partnership) development agreement with the GIZ (German Development) which runs for the next three years. Our goal is to organize over 1500 farmers in our region to become part of the out-grower program we initiated. We also follow a zero waste policy and working on the development of secondary products using the daily waste we produce, like the cassava peel. International certifications are a must if your product should enter the shelfs of some majors in the US or Europe and this is something we are busy with as well. We still have some path ahead of us but soon we will bring the spice and smiles from Nigeria to the rest of the world. I will always bring in the typical German pragmatism which is sometimes quite helpful discussing with trade prospects.
5. What makes Cassanovas Cassava chips stand out in a competitive environment like Nigeria?
I would say there are two major points. We were the first kids on the block and we got the recipe right. Secondly our diverse Management team.
6. Is Cassanovas Cassava chips 100 percent locally made, and are the ingredient and roots sourced from Nigeria?
Yes and we are proud to be 100% Nigerian. From the root to the chip. Our Packaging foil, our spice, the oil we use and of the cartons we use to package of chips. All is locally sourced.
7. Which areas do you expect to see greater client demand in the future?
Snack food in general will have greater demand in the future as also here in Africa people are busier with their daily live and appreciate to have some food/snack in between. Our aim is to produce a healthier snack which tastes awesome and gives you some energy back. We have past the vegan tests for all our products in Germany. We are 100% gluten free. We band all wheat extracts normally used as enhancers from our spice. And we have started first trails with vitamin A enhanced cassava roots which can play a role in the fight against a general nutrition deficiency. We know future clients are and especially mothers will be more concerned what they buy, eat and give their loved ones.
8. Recently Pacific Ring West Africa, producers of Cassavonas Cassava Chips got into a strategic alliance with German cooperation, kindly talk about the importance of this partnership to Casanovas
I mentioned it above, for us this is an important mile stone and we are very happy to be one of the first companies to sign such an alliance contract with the German development agency here in Nigeria. The goals of the strategic alliance are that we have plans to employ up to 300 people direct of which 200 are women. We aim to support 1500 farmers with long term supply contracts at fair market rates. Achieve a zero waste production line including fish food made from cassava peel. Early next year an expert from Germany will join our team to work closely with the GIZ.
9. How would Cassanovas contribute to Nigeria economy and create jobs?
Nigeria has the single biggest GDP of the whole African continent. We are a start-up and will most probably not make any countable difference. But working thru the full value chain into a retail ready exportable food product we hope this shows many others that it is possible. I’m against raw or semi processed agricultural product exports. In our employment policy we are very open and flexible. We just had another round of promotions and employees with hardly any evidence of education just perform incredible and moved up to junior management positions. In addition we are support full gender equality. We defiantly offer more quality than quantity within a big Nation like Nigeria. But we believe this is one important development goal as well.
10. Specific Ring West Africa recently exported Casanovas to Germany, tell us about this giant stride
Actually we exported our first container already late last year. Several followed during the last months. One great advantage we have is that we have a trading firm in Hannover Germany which my wife takes care as the MD. Our Staff in Germany is very knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to open new doors and brand awareness/marketing. But to say the truth it took us several months until we got our full 3rd party certification allowing us to approach some of the medium and big Players. We are very proud that 2 month ago we could finally sign a contract with EDEKA Supermarket in Germany. We are now members of the EDEKA food-starter family as the first and only snack food producer from Nigeria. We are also selling on Amazon and over our own web shop. Exiting times indeed!