AJEast’s ever-expanding drinks range has only been on Nigerian shelves for three years, but the Company has already proven itself as an attractive, innovative alternative to the traditional elite
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
The combination of a country with one of the highest middle-class populations in Africa, and an innovative company looking to challenge the established beverage industry elite is a perfect match on paper; and AJEast is proving this theory to be true as it continues to evolve its extensive range in Nigeria.
The international AJE Group has long looked for opportunities of this description, and with approximately 200 million inhabitants and a rapidly growing urbanisation process, Nigeria was identified as a perfect fit. And thus, this largely autonomous brand was incepted in 2013 as an entrepreneurial business looking to offer a viable alternative to the two major drink brands in the country.
“We began by acquiring land back then and moved into project status and became fully operational in September, 2015,” AJEast Nigeria Ltd Country Manager Theo Williams recalls. “Our vision stemmed from the fact that we realised the PET market had been serving the same size product for the past nine years. So we in turn came into the market with a bigger size - around 25 percent bigger - but for a slightly lower price.
“Our slogan was born: ‘offering you more for less’.”
This premise and ethos has subsequently driven exponential growth for AJEast in Nigeria, initially within Lagos and more recently into the East and North of the country; virtue of its three initial and still primary flavours: Cola, Orange and Lime.
Williams continues: “Our business model here is largely a replication of what the AJE Group has achieved elsewhere in the past, but these flavour selections were critical and tailored, and only decided upon following a detailed case study conducted prior to becoming operational, to find out what flavours were most sought-after in Nigeria.
“And since then, while it’s largely been a case of organic growth and continuing to offer More for Less, we have also broadened our value proposition and scale of delivery. We have begun producing a smaller size PET bottle of 350ml, and a larger PET size as big as two litres, to complement our opening 650ml brands.”
Culminating in a variety of sizes and flavours, the AJEast that exists today is still a work in progress but the speed in which its portfolio and reach has expanded is testament to the Company’s ability to identify consumer preferences, and of course, the quality of its products.
“Our products are bigger, they have less sugar, they have less gas, and they are a viable alternative that people enjoy,” Williams affirms.
Exciting the customer
Naturally, for essentially a startup company, the route to success has to be meticulous and strategic, Williams describing AJEast’s tactics as a “rifle shot market approach”, as opposed to competitors’ “shotgun approach”. Targeting specific demographics, and analysing the best flavours, bottle sizes and price points for them ensures faster uptake and a more responsible growth trajectory as a result.
Williams explains: “If you look at energy drinks for example, which we have moved into to complement our three original flavours, they can often be very expensive in Nigeria which might exclude our traditional target market. So we introduced a drink called ‘BIG VOLT’ at an acceptable price, tailored for our target market; all with an environment of aspiration that people who wouldn’t have previously looked to buy an energy drink can now buy one of the same quality, but at an acceptable price.”
A skilled marketing team is on hand to facilitate such foresight and innovation of thought, while each member of the decision-making structure is encouraged to subscribe to international magazines in order to continually monitor fluctuating trends.
Resultantly applying a well-rounded global outlook to a local domain, Williams can not only translate this market data into new product variables but into the internal structure of the Company too. A recent large investment to double line capacities and into the complementing machinery required to facilitate such development has epitomised this philosophy and once again provides the business with the perfect platform to meet its mission statements.
“Investments like these allow us to react more effectively and quickly to market and consumer trends and that’s the centre of what we do. We look at the market and ask ourselves what the majority of people in our income bracket want to drink both now and in the future. And then it’s about exciting the customer.
“We excite the customer not through prizes and gimmicks, but through providing them with a viable, quality and affordable product.”
Serve all of Nigeria
Ironically, AJEast’s greatest differentiator may actually lie in not being as big as its closest competitors. Reduced bureaucracy, quicker decision making, fresh ideas, the most modern of technologies, Group autonomy, and more personable relationships have all become staples contributory to the Company’s early successes.
And from an ingratiation perspective, the business’s longevity in Nigeria is already being planned for courtesy of its local-centric human resource and supply chain management approaches.
“If you compare us to a lot of international companies, our expat numbers are extremely low,” Williams confirms. “Here, we take Nigerian staff, and we develop them to the level we want and need.
“Then, similarly, on the business partnership side of things, it has always been part of our business model to utilise companies that are directly situated around us, subsequently creating a peripheral network.”
Even the Company’s wholesalers are referred to as partners, rather than customers; emphasising the personable, mutually-loyal reputation that AJEast has already fostered since its move into Nigeria.
Its budding corporate social responsibility (CSR) ambitions which take the notion another step further, kicked off initially with its 2018 ‘Water for People’ programme which will see the supply of boreholes to the community in which the Company’s factory is located, just outside of Lagos.
And as acknowledgement of such exploits broadens, and the AJEast name becomes more positively renowned as each year passes, Williams will be able to convert this acclamation into equally positive market results.
He concludes: “Even a year from now we’ll look to have doubled our output again, not just concentrating on the major cities, but beginning to move towards smaller towns and villages too, so that our product value is on offer to all Nigerians.
“Further down the line we will also look towards an expansion programme whereby we will have the capacity to not just serve all of Nigeria, but to also export further afield. And I’m confident in these ambitions because of the superb team I have around me. We have become an effective team, we treat each other with family values, and we all know where we want to go.”