[Rejoinder] Global Products, Package Local Designs (part 2)

The concluding part of the rejoinder


Meanwhile, Unilever/LBN shifted gear to introduce Rin detergent powder as an economy offering in flex packs of less than 250gms or so and later in smaller sizes and detergent bar, too. There was a rolling launch across major cities pan-Nigeria. PZ had Zip detergent powder and bar. By 1987, the Unilever senior brand manager responsible for Rin had left the company for a position in an advertising agency.


From the foregoing and other angles to be related next, it is plain that during the period of which we speak; P&G was not in the frame yet as a local operator. And in retrospect, it is logical to say that, like in many successful marketing organizations, perhaps it was the big-brand syndrome that swayed Unilever from forcing the flex issue with Omo. Who could blame them when the brand consistently delivered over 55 per cent of the company’s net proceeds on sales, which was a significant metric in LBN’s universe? As for the flex producers, it is possible the economics for local production were not compelling enough hence top-grade cylinder etching and final production had to be done in India still. Perhaps the desire to salt money out of the country also played a role.


Meanwhile a combination of factors, from rising production cost to dwindling consumer incomes, had prompted rapid roll out of bulk powders. Unilever/LBN had as many as three targeting different regions with Rin being cascaded on to bulk bags. PZ Cussons had Tempo. Nasco had Brytex and Doyin Group operating out of Kwara State had one, too. Offered in polypropylene sacks of 5 to 15 kilograms, they abetted the practice of decanting detergent powders in mudus. Further down the chain table-top sellers and corner kiosk operators would break into single-serve wrappings.


As the bulk segment was crystallizing, the likes of Unilever/LBN and Nasco had between 1988 and 1990 commissioned creative designs and aborted further developments of their lead brands in consumer packs of 15 to 25 grams, While they vacillated the most audacious initiative in flex packing in fabric wash was taken by an Indonesian-owned company with the product So Klin. It came in flex pack sizes that keyed met the needs of the retail trade and consumers. It branded and validated the single portion, and it was white coloured. So, if at all any one company/detergent powder ate another’s lunch in flex packaging that would be So Klin and B-29! They caused ripples in the market and regrets in marketing cubicles at Unilever and Nasco. That much I know having been involved in those pack designs.


So, where does this entire story leave P&G’s Ariel? As mentioned a while ago, its relative smooth entry and immediate acceptance had so much to do with the auspicious time of entry as with what had become a shift in attitude toward that kind of packaging of consumer goods. Thanks in large part to the dogged drive of another company in an unrelated product field – instant milk powder.


About the same time soap and detergent majors were facing serious challenges, their counterparts in foods and beverages were locked in a fight to stay relevant: mainstream consumers were starting to rationalize some food products like milk, cocoa beverages and cereals. They were seen as “additives” or non-essentials. Between Nestlé’s Milo and Cadbury’s Bournvita combined tonnage was ebbing. By the mid 1990s, they were yet to beat 10,000 metric tons. Meanwhile, those two had unleashed cross-category competition, knocking milk products with loud and graphic claims of “no need to add milk” in TV commercials and print adverts. .


Interestingly, ingenious market women had taken to most unhygienic practice of decanting instant milk powder, cocoa beverage and granulated sugar into nylon, using in-pack scoop and tablespoon measures. That many have helped to keep those products within the reach of many consumers. As that trade took shape, the import of milk powder spiked beyond what was needed by the producers of ice cream, yoghurt and other dairy products. 1990/91, Nigeria Television Authority was fighting a losing battle with documentaries aimed at discouraging the unhealthy practice.


Nido instant milk powder in tin pack, one of first to so commoditized, was being imported by a local businessman and the local Nestle team may have seen no reason to get into any rofo rofo fight. That much the group product manager (Milk & Nutrition) was to mention in passing some years later. Friesland-WAMCO, the only maker of milk of any kind at the time, would rather stick to its well branded and highly profitable Peak evaporated full cream milk. They had no interest in diving into the powdered milk fracas albeit they made unconvincing noises later with its economy filled-milk Three Crowns evaporated milk. In point of fact, all the branded instant milk powder in the market came in 450 and 900gms tin packs; no flex or refill pack as they were later called. It was not until 1994/5 that Peak moved into 450gm refill sachet of flexo-packaging and another five or six years to move into smaller pack sizes by which time the field had become crowed and rowdy.   .    .   .              .


Meanwhile in 1990/91, out of the blue came a group with roots in southern African to change the face of the dairy product offerings.  Wonderfoods, now called Promasidor, practically seized control of a low-end milk segment the majors had scoffed at. By resolutely pitching flexo-packed Cowbell instant milk as a veritable brand with portion packs and large sizes, theirs was a pivotal role in generally getting consumers to embrace that format of packaging. Also, the huge orders of the material may have helped the producers of such packaging materials as more products came in that format and its local production rocketed. So widespread were the efforts of the likes of Cowbell, So Kin and B-29 detergent powder that when P&G entered with their established brands in flex packages, they were going into a rapidly crystallizing situation.


On the food processor, if you had UAC Foods/GALA sausage roll in mind, the rumblings it faced over its main raw material some years ago was not as much about suspicion of using dead or insensitivity about the mode of slaughtering the cows as it was about unfounded stories that the company sometimes was probably using pork meat for the product. Calling a wake-up call for a product had been in the market all over Nigeria for over three decades before that dust was raised. For a company widely involved in the production of a range of meat products, including beacon, that was always going to be a touch charge to debunk.


The resulting fire fight involved enlisting northern muslim icons in music, use of sound bites of a cow, panning shots of live cows in TV commercials and the silhouette of a cow’s head on the primary wrapper. Today, other brands in the category make a point of associating with cow meat in brand name or other product features.


With all sense of modesty, I have offered this intervention from the standpoint of one who was close to the situation, privileged to work as a strategic planner and subsequently with an account service remit that covered Unilever, Nestle, and FrieslandCampina/WAMCO businesses in a leading communication outfit over the period the developments you cited in your commentary unfolded. The Gala challenge was a case study at the 1995 Unilever Advanced Marketing Programme directed by the current chief marketing officer of MTN Nigeria with one of the embattled Gala marketing people as a faculty member and this writer a participant. .





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