Speaking during an interview with Financial insight Zambia (FiZ), Java foods CEO, Monica Musonda gave insights on the Java foods company, she said Java foods is a manufacturing business, which is Zambia’s leading instant noodle brand called Ezee noodles that has been in existence since 2012. They have been manufacturing this brand for 4 years now in Zambia because they recently built their factory here. The manufacturing company uses a 100% locally sourced Zambian wheat. The CEO who had grand visions starting the business says the company is where it needs to be as they have learnt so much on how to build a business, how to build brands, how to put a team together and are happy with the progress and that Zambians have supported it. She added that they don’t take it lightly that the Ezee noodle brand has actually grown. Asked on how sitting on so many boards has helped her grow her company, she said, she was a lawyer who worked on private practice and in house and coming out to be an entrepreneur sitting on so many boards has been a unique experience for her as she did not know so much about business and had an opportunity to look at how really good businesses are run. Giving an example of boards she has sat on, names such as Airtel, Zambian breweries, and Zambia Sugar came up as huge business that are successfully run, she said sitting on such boards has taught her the core principles of running a successful business.
Ms. Monica Musonda also stated that encouraging more local production, local value addition and focusing on how to reduce cost as food is very expressive are cardinal issues to her heart.And a lot of discussions with key stakeholders concerning how to package food on the shelves, and how to close that division is what needs to be done, also looking at how to encourage lending institutions to finance those kinds of businesses and understand the sector as some of the businesses take a while to mature. She added that food safety is also cardinal, making sure that consumers are eating food that is safe and also good for you, however this has been a struggle for many manufactures who might have different basis from Java who have put it fundamentally that they always produce safe food, and have gone further to be internationally certified. Java foods is audited by ZABS and international certification bodies who go to inspect their processes which is very important, she said. “Another one we are keen and interested in is to get better taxation, it’s still quite a high cost of doing business because taxation is quite high”. She continued that giving breathers to certain business levels, looking at how long they’ve been in business, how to better look at taxation policies to allow these businesses to grow are discussions still underway as they wait to see how this goes, she noted.
As Java foods, she said, the aim was to source locally produced raw materials, however the struggle being that raw materials not grown at a commercial level are difficult to source and in the right quantities and quality and also to bring innovation around as certain material is only available for 3 months in a year, further she added that there’s still a lot of work to be done on the value chain in order for all the innovation to come into play. Madam Musonda also said, they would love to see a better way of distributing their products across the country in terms of FMCG, as she noted that there are companies that are better vested in distribution, currently she said, the company is using a high breed model where they have a few trucks distributing on their own and also using third parties, which she noted is not perfect as it hampers growth. Another thing she said they are looking to see for FMCG is a Zambia thing as a whole, to get clients to buy things online digitally. She pointed out how COVID brought about change in people buying groceries online for the ease, and convenience, which however is still slow here in Zambia and again if distribution can be working immaculately businesses can thrive. She also said competition is also needed by smaller businesses which should not be worried about one big companies growth, as we appreciate that they have the financial muscle it should also be noted that creation of monopolies is not great. And therefore would like to see many players in the FMCG.
Speaking on marketing and PR, she noted how social media has taken a huge shift, she compared social media 10 years ago and today and said putting up a bill board is more costly than actually using TikTok which pulls so many crowds and is cost effective. Asked on how COVID affected the business, she said, it was hard as it delayed things for the business and pushed profitability back. And as many people had to work from home, they couldn’t do that as a manufacturing business she said they had to figure out how to keep their staff safe, how to distribute the product in the pandemic in order for consumers to buy it. She said COVID was also an opportunity for them, which made them view the business differently. In the low time for noodles as schools were also closed, their other brand, instant porridge did very well, this taught them that they had to be agile in business as crisis will always be there. Concerning global food security she said, we need to have more home grown solutions, as when crisis strikes and food prices globally go up you’ll be impacted if you’re a key importer, and the only way to change this is by eating more locally sourced and manufactured food, as Java foods they’re looking at innovating around different raw materials that are locally and climate resistant which can also create a good food product. They’re also looking at making different decisions regarding power sources, to which she said, the company now has a boiler, this is to see how they can be climate aware and resilient, and also to manage costs.
Finally as a working mother, she said, it hasn’t been easy running the business as family should always come first, however, she also pointed out that it is also about finding a balance because running a business is also like a child, “as everybody needs something from you”, she added that one must also prioritize, communicate with the team and people that need something from you. She also added that using your network and learning how others do it is also cardinal. On strategic focus she said that, the focus was first to build the Zambian brand and market and now the company looks at growing the brands outside of Zambia, as it is the only company excluding South Africa that is manufacturing noodles within the region.