Our Mission Is To Make People Happy – Aare Fatai Odesile, MD, GrandOak Limited


The Brand Communicator team recently caught up with the Managing Director of GrandOak Limited, Aare Fatai Odesile in his office. He spoke on a range of issues including the wine and spirit market, the marketing communications industry in Nigeria and counterfeiting. Excerpts:


Grand Oak
Aare Fatai Odesile

Wine And Spirit Market In Nigeria


The wine and spirit market in Nigeria is evolving. I cast my mind back to pre-’77, where the bulk of what we had in Nigeria were imported brands of wines and spirits. Then, the indigenization decree of 1977 promulgated by Obasanjo (who was then the military head of state) paved way for the rise of indigenised brands. Hence, NDL took advantage of that to start its domestic production in 1979. The Nigerian market has evolved to the extent that we have fully grown Nigerian brands of wines and spirits that people carry along with them when travelling abroad. People abroad also make specific request for some of the brands like Bacchus Tonic Wines and Seaman’s Schnapps.

But I think we are still growing. We have not started exploring local grapes for red wine making, typically because of our geographical terrain. We bring in concentrates today to produce red wine. I am looking forward to the day when Nigeria will start growing its own grapes and producing different kinds of wine and spirit from the grapes.

Also, we must commend the immediate government for it role in sanitizing the wine and spirit market. Some four to five years ago, Nigeria was a dumping ground for all manner of wines and spirits from Asian countries & others where spirit brands were smuggled through the borders into Nigeria, making life difficult for players in the Nigerian market. We rose up against that at the level of Manufacturing Associations of Nigeria (MAN). The government also came to our aid by increasing the tariff for these imported brands. This has now encouraged most of the multinationals to set up their factories to produce wine and spirit in Nigeria.


Marketing Communications In Nigeria


As a practitioner and a player in this industry, I don’t think you can divorce Marketing Communication from the advance in technology which has helped sharpened the marketing communications practice.

Looking back to when we started practising, we had mainly the traditional media at the time; TV, print and radio. Marketing communications has today gone beyond that; it has transcended now into global space. It is becoming more targeted and more consumer-centric. Of course, it comes with its own challenge because globalization has brought in bigger players into the Nigerian market and therefore some of the materials and concepts that could pass in those days will be a laughable stuff today.

However, the manpower aspect of marketing communications is nothing to write home about. In those days, when brand managers write briefs, agencies can go to board meetings with it. Today, the quality of people behind it sparks a big concern. Except you as the chief Marketing officer, or Marketing Director / MD spend extra time scrutinizing the brief, you may have some very embarrassing materials outside there.

I think the industry as a whole owes it as a duty to raise the knowledge level and the competency of our people, given the dynamism of communication today. These are areas I feel the industry needs to improve upon as far as marketing communications is concerned.


Core Values At GrandOak


GrandOak Limited is a world class marketing organization of quality mainstream/ Premium brands. We have both domestic and international arm of GrandOak. As a marketing company, at the core of our philosophy is the consumer which makes us consumer oriented company.

Also core to us is the people. Our mission is to make people happy. That is what we stand for and that’s what we do.

We also like to do things with candour. We are very open and transparent. We also have a family culture. Those are the core values of GrandOak Limited. Our philosophy has always been to make people happy in whatever segment they are. Whether they are in the upper, middle or low income stratum, we have the right product portfolio to delight them. For instance, in the Premium segment, we have the likes of St- Lauren, Seaman’s and The Lord’s Dry Gin etc, while in the value segment, we have Swagga range etc.


GrandOak’s Edge


GrandOak is the pioneer sales and marketing organization in the spirit sector in Nigeria. The organization stands out from the pack. All others today are still part of the factory.

Rich Heritage is also one of the company’s key competitive edge. We are a proudly Nigerian brand that has stood the test of time. Also, our distribution stands us out. Grand Oak is present in virtually every part of Nigeria. At arm’s length, we make sure we are present in every segment and channel. Our modern trade strategy is quite unique. If you go to other trade outlets you will see that our brands are enjoying presence.

Most importantly, we believe in marketing. We follow the consumer in his purchase, we follow the consumer in his habit, and we anticipate and surpass consumers’ needs. We set the pace. Our unique competency is brand building. We build brands for generations to come.


Initiatives Over The Years


We were the first to pioneer the Tetra Pack packaging with Bacchus Tonic Wine and some of our other brands. When I joined GrandOak Limited, it was a habit to look for a glass cup whenever you wanted to drink Seaman Schnapps or pour libation. What I am saying is that we became the first to pioneer the tot glass initiative in the schnapps segment which has today become the bench mark.

I remember we introduced a concept called Seaman’s 2000 at the beginning of the millennium in 1999. It came with a tot glass. It was to be a promo to herald the century but today it has become a part and parcel of the brand offering. Typically, any schnapps today worth its offering will have a tot glass to it.

Also, we pioneered PET bottles for low SKUs; 12.5cl, 20cl, etc. When we started, not many were enthusiastic about it but today, virtually all the brands, even the bigger brands like Johnnie Walker have all embraced PET packaging options. It’s part of our initiatives and we were the first to do it in the domestic market.

We also pioneered the Laminate material for packaging sachet pack of 3cl. When we were about to do it, some people were against it citing brand positioning as a reason. I explained to them then that brand positioning is all about consistency. It has nothing to do with pack size. Whether it is in one litre or 75cl, your pricing strategy, your distribution strategy and your promotion strategy should all be consistent across the pack size. We introduced it and all other brands have followed our footsteps. It was a GrandOak/NDL initiative.

Equally, counterfeiting is one of the major problems in the industry. We pioneered a concept called ‘Cool Twista’. When a consumer wants to drink, he just twists it, drink the content and disposes accordingly. It can’t be faked. We pioneered it with Seaman’s and now we have it on Calypso and Dark Sailor and it’s growing.

We also discovered that Seaman’s as a brand leader needed a bigger libation pack because everybody wants to share from the blessed drink. So we pioneered the one litre Schnapps packaging. Today, it is the authentic libation pack which we call Seaman’s Royal. Seaman’s Royal is also the first to use the flexible packaging that you see in your Seaman’s Royal.

If you look back, we have the Calypso wrap around initiative. GrandOak was the first to do it. We have done quite a number of things and we are still doing both in terms of product packaging and Content improvement. We have a new brand now called ‘9ja Café’. It is in the spirit of Nigeria and it is enjoying massive acceptability across Nigeria. That is why we say our competency is in brand building and innovation.


Consumer Reactions


I am happy to say that we relaunched Lord’s Dry Gin recently which is being seen and rightly so by consumers as the most prestigious brand of gin in the country, because it is the only gin that comes in a customized bottle and a top grade gift box which makes it decent for presentation as a gifts and so on. Acceptability was quite phenomenal.

We also introduced what we call ‘Lord’s Solo’. It is Lord’s 18cl in glass bottles. The acceptability is massive. Looking at 9ja Café also the quality and presentation which makes it attractive to many people. Very recently, we introduced what is called Seaman’s Classic.


Rewarding Consumers and Customers


Our philosophy is centred around the consumer being the core centre of our business. Our customers are also an extension of our business. You know they say customer is the king. But, consumer is the kingmaker. We believe that as our customers, beyond profit and beyond the naira and kobo relationship, there has to be some benefits that customers can also derive something from us that is not tangible or monetary.

We discovered that quite a number of them, because of the nature of this business, had no opportunity to travel out. We felt that beyond the business, there has to be something to remember GrandOak Limited for even though it is at a cost. There has to be a relationship that touches on emotion. We took our customers to South Africa to watch the Africa Cup of Nations. We made sure our timing coincided with the football fiesta. We bought seats for them and paid for everything. These are a way of cementing that relationship between ourselves and our customer together with their spouses. It is more of our loyalty scheme and impacting on the customers.

Beyond that we reward them annually. They have their rebate, they have their discounts and we also give them cash awards. Some of them have won Ford Jeep, Toyota Jeep, Highlander, delivery buses and so on.

It is not all about just making profit out of these people. Remember this is a Proudly Nigerian company. It is also about giving back to them. So, our philosophy is “let’s touch the life of our customers positively and let’s also do something that is emotional.

We do give employment opportunities for our customer’s children here, given that the children merit it. That is why a large number of individuals in our sales team are children of our customers. That is a way of building relationship that goes beyond trading today.


Fighting Counterfeiting With Regulatory Bodies


The relationship between us and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) is very mutual. Beyond that, we have had a lot of collaborations with NAFDAC and CPC because one of the challenges facing the sector today is faking. The nature of our drinks does not encourage the consumer to return bottles. There are people who go around picking disposed bottles, sitting in the corner of their houses and pouring nonsense there fill and cap it, and he has a product. Unlike the breweries where you must return the bottles, that puts a lot of controls. Here, there are no such schemes, given the nature of the products.

So what we do is a lot of collaborations and packaging innovations and upgrade. You have got to be a step ahead of them. When you launch a product and in the next two to three years you do not do anything about it, you will have a lot of fakes. We do a lot of packaging upgrade and a lot of raiding the market. That is why we partner with bodies like NAFDAC.

As earlier mentioned, we are in partnership with SON. We are the first company to be ISO certified in this sector both at Nigerian Distilleries Limited and GrandOak limited. We were ISO certified in 2008. It is an ongoing relationship.

Our systems are audited periodically. We have a SON team that goes across all our area offices which further confirms to the consumers that we are doing the right thing and that our process is also world class. It is an ongoing collaboration. People fake a lot of things even human beings! But we will not give up in the fight to continually protect our customers.


Products In The Pipeline


New products should be expected from us very soon. One of our innovations is to bring new products. We have seen the gap. Government has being very helpful like I mentioned earlier in curtailing dumping of substandard products from abroad. In the next few weeks, we will be unveiling a new product.

One of the latest innovations today is the swagga bitters. It is not just an alcohol mixture; it is a herb concentrate that we developed with plant extracts. It is doing well. Most of us have done away with our ‘paraga’ and ‘agbo.’ If you come to my house now, it is Swagga that I use.


CSR Initiatives


We have what is called the ‘showers of blessings’ initiative which we carry out in partnership with the TulsiChanrai Foundation. Seaman in collaboration with TulsiChanraiFoundation in some parts of the country especially in the Eastern part and South southern part of the country is spearheading restoration of hand pumps boreholes that had gone bad. The partnership was to reactivate the boreholes and a lot of them are functioning well. We have done that for over 150 communities.

We had also partnered with the same foundation to restore sights in Calabar specifically. We sponsored the operation of over a hundred people who had cataracts and other optical related issues. Lenses were replaced and their lives had improved for the better.

We dug a lot of boreholes in the South West and in places like Ota, just to bring life and water to people. We recently renovated the health facilities in Iju community in Ogun State. CSR for us is an ongoing thing. We believe that it is our responsibility as a proudly Nigerian Company to continually touch the life of people positively.






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