Beloxxi cream crackers is arguably one of the most popular snacks common to children and adults in Nigeria and has even expanded to other countries in Sub-saharan Africa.
If you have flown with Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Ethiopian, Kenyan or even South African Airways in the last four year, then you should know that the Beloxxi cream crackers is one of the snacks served onboard.
From a small importation and trading company, Beloxxi has grown to become a large biscuit manufacturer under the watch of its founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Obi Ezeude. With the company launching new brands of its signature crackers biscuit one after another, Beloxxi is taken one more step into the spotlight with every move.
For this week’s founders profile, we have Obi Ezeude, Beloxxi’s dauntless founder and CEO.
Obi Mark Ezeude was born on the 7th of July 1967 in his native town in Anambra state, to parents who hailed from Ubuluenu Uke, in Idemili North local government area.
He started his schooling in Anambra state, before travelling to the United States of America where he bagged a degree in Banking and Finance, years later.
He returned to Nigeria in his 20s, at a time when many people were looking for funds to travel out of the country due to the presence of a military administration in power, and the attendant difficulties for individuals. It was a time many preferred to run away, but not Ezeude. He preferred to come back and build his country’s economy.
He decided to set up a business. What he could see around showed him that many people were going into the importation and trading business, and he wanted to do the same too. However, he was faced with a major constraint – capital.
“My reason for starting with biscuits was because I hadn’t much money and needed a business my little capital could afford,” Ezeude said.
He incorporated Beloxxi & Company Limited (BCL) as an importer and distributor of Hwa Tai and Luxury Cracker biscuit brands from Malaysia and Dean’s shortbread from Scotland.
It was a smooth ride for the company for the next nine years, until 2003 when the General Olusegun Obasanjo-led government of Nigeria, banned the importation of biscuits in order to trigger and encourage local production.
Like any similar policy would, this sparked some reactions across the value chain, particularly among the group of persons who had made lots of money importing and trading the same item. Ezeude, however, had a different sentiment towards it, probably because he had always nursed the ambition to venture into manufacturing.
While others were trying to lobby the government into changing its decision, Ezeude immediately set about convincing his Malaysian partners to set up a manufacturing company in Nigeria with him as their partner, but his suggestions hit the rocks. For some reason, they simply did not buy the idea of manufacturing in Nigeria.
Undeterred, he tried to secure a loan from two Nigerian banks, but he would later recount that they were more concerned about collateral and when he could not present sufficient collateral, they denied him the loan. Apparently, not many people saw enough potential in biscuit manufacturing to warrant an investment.
Ezeude went ahead to approach the US Export and Import Bank (US Exim) for a loan. It was a long and tedious process, and he did not even have all the requirements.
“I had series of meetings with their management and even when I did not have all that they requested, the management and officials were more interested in my ideas and how it would work whereas my Nigerian bankers were only interested in collateral,” he recalled.
After all negotiations and discussions, a $2.2 million dollar loan facility was approved in December 2003 for Ezeude to build a fully integrated and automated biscuits manufacturing company. He did not build one immediately but started with a disused factory block in Ikeja, Lagos State capital, and a single production line. This factory fully became operational in 2006
A good problem solves other problems
A few years later, Ezeude had in his hands what most entrepreneurs would call a good problem.
“We faced the challenge of meeting market expectation in product volume, and had to do something about it,” he said in an interview.
This problem gave birth to an expansion of the company into Agbara, Ogun state, creating thousands of jobs for Nigerians. The first phase of the Agbara project with three production lines was commissioned in September 2010 by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Soon after followed another expansion, as Ezeude added three more production lines to the earlier three to meet up with the ever-increasing demand. This is certainly not a problem that many entrepreneurs can boast of having – more demand than supply, but it is a sure result of rolling out a quality product at a competitive price.
The second phase expansion was commissioned by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in February 2018, and structurally increased Beloxxi’s production capacity in six lines to 40,000 metric tonnes of biscuits.
Right on the heels of the second phase expansion came the ground-breaking ceremony for a third phase expansion, to add another three production lines, increase the company’s staff strength from 2500 to 6000 and its production capacity from 40,000 to 100,000 metric tonnes of cream crackers per annum.
From Ezeude’s speech, one could easily see his strong faith in the Nigerian economy, and what he hoped to achieve with the expansion.
But where did the expansion monies come from?
For a business that started with a $2.2 million loan from US Exim, it is normal to wonder where the company had the funds to keep expanding.
In August 2016, the company divested minority shareholding to German prime investment bank, the KFW-DEG, at an estimated value of $85m. This purchase by the German Investment Bank, and the 8Miles of London, a private equity firm focused on investments in Africa, provided the funds for the third expansion to nine production lines, as well as the establishment of an allied packaging factory in Oregun.
Ezeude did not disappoint the investors in his method of allocating and expending the funds; and when the president of the bank, Mr Bruno Wenn visited the Agbara factor in October 2017, he could not hide his satisfaction at what had been achieved.
Wenn noted on his visit that investing with Beloxxi was worth the while. After taking a tour round the factory and asking every question possible, he gave assurances that with the way Beloxxi was going, it would not be a bad idea for the management of the KFW-DEG to consider investing more fund in the company.
In recognition of Ezeude’s contribution to the national economy, he received The Sun Manufacturer of the Year award in 2017.
In March 2020, Obi Ezeude won the 2020 Ernst and Young (EY) Global Entrepreneur Award for West Africa, in the Emerging Entrepreneur category, beating three others to clinch the award. While receiving the award, Ezeude described Beloxxi as his “modest contribution to the national development of Nigeria.”
In June 2020 he received Fate foundation award of the year 2020.
At 53, and having successfully built one of the most technologically advanced biscuits plants owned by an indigenous investor in Nigeria, Ezeude has no plans to slow down. Posts on his social media handles show that the founder is still very much involved in running the company he has nursed since he was 27.
We expect him to grow bigger, as he sure has plans to, especially because of the larger picture of what his successful expansion signifies for the Nigerian economy in terms of job creation and socio-economic development.