Although Namibian foods are popular choices in homes and a growing number of restaurants, the range of off-the-shelf manufactured foodstuffs is limited, with the exception of milled mahangu. Although demand for local foodstuffs is clear, there is limited impetus in developing locally manufactured foods.
Oshuulo Trading Enterprises, a recipient of a merit certificate in the recent Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) innovation awards hopes to buck the trend with a range of canned black beans, known as Okalunya, and a canned beaned relish known as Oshigali, which is eaten as a porridge, or as a relish for mahangu or maize porridge.
BIA Investments, also a recipient of an innovation award certificate of merit, proposed a product in the food manufacturing category – a packaged, flavoured breakfast serial manufactured from mahangu.
Speaking about the projects, DBN Manager of Corporate Communication Jerome Mutumba says the plans have sound potential development impact in terms of the national Growth-At-Home Strategy. He says that greater demand for the locally grown beans and mahangu will stimulate additional agricultural production, particularly in regions where traditional crops are grown.
Talking about sustainability of supply, Mutumba says that the initiatives are not expected to reduce supply in areas where there are staples or mainstay crops, but that they will stimulate additional horticultural activity.
He points to the widespread uptake of existing packaged, milled mahangu as proof. The new products, he says, will translate into additional income generation and seasonal employment in rural communal areas.
Greater demand for Okalunya, he says, will enable rural communal horticulturalists to diversify their incomes with attendant benefits for income security.
Mutumba notes that the projects will fulfil the requirement of employment by employing a combination of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour alongside appropriate technology for producing high-quality manufactured foods.
Talking about possible markets for the product, Mutumba says that the project promoters have done their homework in identifying retail trade as well as government institutions as probable sources of demand.
Mutumba notes however that traditional Namibian foods need a different marketing approach. He says that many crops are either unique to a set of regions, or that food commodities are prepared in different manners unique to their regions.
He says that because of entrenched preparation preferences, the most likely food marketing strategy has to balance its provision between marketing in an area where the dish is already well known, and then target migrant populations from those areas, before being spread to other consumers.
This, Mutumba says, indicates that food manufacturers should opt for low start-up investments and a strategy that opts for steady growth.
Mutumba adds that one of the major barriers to local food-manufacturing and marketing is the large local retailer who mitigates retail risk by stocking a range of imported products which are known to sell well, rather than assigning presence to local brands which may have a lower turnover at introduction, but that grow over time.
In this regard, Mutumba says, commercially milled mahangu is a clear example that local staples can succeed in Namibian retail environments.
Mutumba says there is definitely demand for the convenience of manufactured foodstuffs, and that demand will definitely be seen in retail, but that local manufacturers and retailers have to cooperate in a leap of faith to ensure that they have benefits for all.