Mr Ekpa – ‘Ekpa’ means groundnut in yoruba language- is a distinct Nigerian groundnut brand. The Lagos based brand is a product of L and L foods which was founded by Ladipo Lawani and Ladipo Lanre in 2015.
Currently located at Ikeja, Lagos Nigeria, L and L foods flagship product-Mr Ekpa- is premised on a vision to “become the market leader of the Nigerian groundnut industry”
The CEO of L and L foods Ladipo Lawani has a Bachelors Degree in Economics from Knox College and an MBA at Columbia Business School while starting L&L Foods.
Ladipo had 7 years of work experience in Marketing, Sales and finance at multinationals such as British American Tobacco & Edward Jones Investments. “I had held roles in Brand Marketing, Trade Marketing, Business development, Financial Advisory & Strategy. I had also started a youth development organization called Naija-go-getters. through which I had trained over 2000 youths in leadership and entrepreneurship.”
In a chat with Ladipo Lawani he said “The name literally means “Mr Groundnut”. I choose the name because we wanted to build a distinctively Nigerian brand, and in Lagos where I live, Ekpa is the most common local reference for groundnut. Hence, I figured if we called it Mr. Ekpa, very few people would be in doubt as to the origin of the brand. As a business, building locally inspired and relevant brands is very important to us.”
“When we started, we felt that many products made in Nigeria didn’t have packaging and brands that would inspire confidence or pride in customers. Having worked at a company like British American Tobacco, which owned iconic global brands, I had come to understand the power of branding to drive economic value. In many global consumer good companies such as Coca Cola and Nestle, the intellectual properties i.e. the brands accounted for a significant amount of the economic value the companies controlled. For instance, the name Coca Cola, and its logo are worth Billions and attract Billions of dollars to the company every year. Hence, Nigerian companies not taking advantage of the power of branding to drive economic value, I felt we were leaving a lot of money on the table and consequently not harnessing the opportunity to contribute to the economic development of the country. At L&L Foods, one of our key missions is ‘To build local brands, Nigerians can be proud of”
The idea behind Mr. Ekpa, started “with an urge to start business. After some research we narrowed down to the agriculture sector and started to understand the problems and areas of opportunities. One trend we identified was that the further up the value chain a business played the higher the margins. So for instance, the coffee farmer might make 20 cents, while Starbucks makes 2 dollars. We also realized that in Nigeria, many companies tended to play further down the agricultural value chain and there was not enough value addition going on in the country. During this research process, the case of cashew really struck us. Even though West Africa produced a large percent of the world cashew, we did very little to no processing. Hence we were exporting raw cashew nuts to Vietnam and then reimporting the finished goods at much higher prices. This led us to wanting to start a cashew nut processing company and brand. In the process of launching the business, we had an aha! moment. We realized that groundnut was more widely consumed and also didn’t have a lot of established brands, hence we decided to go into the groundnut business instead” said Ladipo
The company which currently employs 15 people is unique based on the level of hygiene of the products and their unique groundnut flavors. “We adopt high manufacturing standards, so our customers can be confident that they are consuming hygienic products. We also work with local farmers across Nigeria, to ensure we are using the best quality groundnuts for our products.”
For L and L foods “Starting out was fun.” Ladipo said “There was a lot of excitement and sense of possibility. After 3 years I must say we are still quite passionate about the space and opportunities. We started out with some investments from friends and family and our savings. In terms of product development, there was a lot of trial and error. We also relied on local groundnut roasters to teach us their techniques we then looked for ways to customize it to give our product a distinct taste.”
“The biggest challenge we faced was learning how to run a manufacturing business. Neither me or my business partner had a technical background. Hence, it was difficult figuring out how to set up and effectively run our factory. However, through a lot of research and talking with others, we have made progress.”
The company won the Nigerian Economic Summit Group startup competition and the Columbia Business School startup competition.
Advise to youths in Agribusiness
“Be committed to understanding your agricultural value chain and creating value for your customers and investors. The rewards would eventually come. A lot of times we young people want to succeed before achieving excellence at our chosen fields. I think the right way is to first master the craft and achieve excellence, then the success would eventually come. More specifically, this means a deep understanding of product quality and being able to deliver it. It also means building a solid supply chain and operational model.”