By: John Eriomala
Aside from their shared reality as students of the University of Ibadan, Deborah and Àra have only a few things in common. One is that they are both ladies, the other is that they are both into food services — Àra runs a bakery brand while Deborah renders fast food and catering services — and consequently, the third is that they face similar hindrances in providing these services to fellow students; the chief culprit being none other than inflation.
For Àra, full name Seunbabara, who is a third-year student of the Faculty of Law, “It’s been a lot. It’s stressful having to review prices every two weeks or so to keep with the climbing market prices”. She, along with her fellow ‘foodpreneurs’ on campus, join millions of Nigerians enduring the effects of the nation’s inflation rate (26.72% as of September according to the National Bureau of Statistics). That said, how has this affected their services? And what else has been a stumbling block for this set of students since resumption?
Transport and Delivery
For these foodpreneurs, both the cost of transportation to purchase food items and condiments and the cost of delivery to customers have risen. Deborah, whose journey into food services started in 300 Level after her IT stint, complained about the cost of deliveries, specifically claiming that it was the major challenge she had faced this session as customers didn’t like the hike in delivery fees.
Deliveries that used to cost as little as Five Hundred Naira now go for double the price; limiting the choices of both the customers and Deborah herself who now has to pay more for their service.
Another foodpreneur, Ronke* (real name withheld) also mentioned this. In her opinion, delivery cost is unmistakably tied to low turnout from customers, especially as, in many cases, she had agreed on other details before the mention of delivery costs; the last straw for many customers.
About the cost of transportation to get foodstuffs, she wearily complained, “Cost of transportation to Bodija to get foodstuffs at a subsidised price is high, yet the ones available in school are a killer”; referring to the alarming disparity between the prices of certain goods on campus compared to that outside.
Rising and Still Rising Prices
With and without the disparity, the cost of foodstuffs is still a major obstacle for UI’s student foodpreneurs. Emmanuel Olakunle is a second-year medical student and one of the few male student foodpreneurs on campus.
In the course of our interaction on the subject, he barely held back a frustrated response, saying, “I had to put a pause two weeks ago to delivery as rice technically flew to ₦2000 for a congo. As a student, why would I eat rice beyond ₦500 in one sitting? The cost price was crazy so I just had to go back to the drawing board”. Later on, he clarified that this inflation in prices has been “the biggest barrier among all”.
For context, a congo (a unit of measurement that equals ten cups) of rice used to be ₦1500 – ₦1700 but now sells for the aforementioned ₦2,000; tomatoes have doubled in price to ₦200 for the small plate, and packs of spaghetti now sell for ₦700 from about ₦550 two months ago. The cost of flour and other materials for baking has also increased substantially, affecting pastry and confectionery makers.
Emmanuel’s course mate and senior colleague, Boluwatife Adenle, who deals with cakes, flour-based snacks, and yoghurts is one of such people hit by the latter. “It has made sales slow and made us increase the cost of our products. Not just that alone, things are getting expensive daily and customers do not want to buy because it is expensive.”
The price of kerosene is one more factor that has affected the services of UI’s foodpreneurs. For instance, in Idia Village, a litre of kerosene sells for ₦1100 and even higher in Awo Hall. In Agbowo, it sells a little lower at ₦1000.
This high cost has led to vendors eliminating certain meals from their menu for cost-effectiveness. Ronke even appealed for a possible re-assessment of the stove-only rule for halls of residence, as a way to mitigate the effect of the price increment.
As it is with everything extracurricular in UI, for most students, the curricular takes precedence and can sometimes cause complete side-lining of everything else. Emmanuel, in particular, has almost “killed the skill” due to the academic workload. “This session has been especially crazy, especially for someone who is used to not going to classes. Preclinicals require that I attend almost all classes and spend 2/3rd of my life on books. Balance has been a strong challenge”. Deborah, who is in her fourth year as a Human Nutrition and Dietetics student, has also found it difficult to cope with the demands of this session and her business. “Business has been a little tedious due to the fact that I have class every day in contrast to other semesters where I normally have one or two free days on my timetable.
Measures For The Times
In the face of these challenges, foodpreneurs have resorted to alternative strategies to meet the needs of their customers. Every single one I spoke to appeared to have figured out a hack for publicity. Àra, for one, started doing traditional market outreaches involving her giving free samples in different halls of residence.
According to her, she gets to promote visibility and also generate personal relationships with the new leads generated. For Aboderin Oluwatosin, another third-year Law student who runs Suzie’s Sweet and Spicy, much of the publicity comes about by word-of-mouth referrals. She just ensures that it’s intensified during sales. Then there’s Boluwatife who has combined the word-of-mouth referrals with promo packages.
To combat the cost of delivery, most have opted for door-to-door services. Some, like Emmanuel, make use of e-fliers showing designated delivery points for specific days and time ranges. For off-campus orders, the consensus is still to use delivery services; but making sure it’s in the region their pockets can accommodate for. Some mentioned having to sometimes reject orders in such instances seeing as the net profit would be minimal.
The situation they face is reflected even by cafeterias on campus and extends as far as the Alexander Brown Hall cafeterias, Prestige and Fanowole, where traditional discounts no longer apply. And barring any economic intervention by the Government, the situation is unlikely to change soon.
The only ray of hope that exists is that none appear willing to stop providing these services anytime soon; driven by resilience and in some cases, like Emmanuel’s whose main motivation is “to keep his brand (Jayce Cuisines) alive and maintain skillset”, passion.