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Vitamilk making Thailander wealthy in Nigeria

- Busrin Treerapongpichit

(Tuesday, July 19, 2005)

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"Ms Nattanee struck up a conversation with an African passerby who was sipping Vitamilk. Suddenly, an idea struck her."

Money never falls out of the sky but sometimes a chance encounter with a stranger can lead to a big business opportunity. Just ask Nattanee Booncharoen, a Pratunam market clothing shop owner who has become a wealthy woman in Nigeria. Six years ago, it was just another boring afternoon at the market. Crowds were sparse as the country was in the grip of the economic crisis. Ms Nattanee struck up a conversation with an African passerby who was sipping Vitamilk. Suddenly, an idea struck her. She took a few sips of the soybean milk and promptly made a phone call to the producer, Greenspot (Thailand) Co to ask if it would grant her an exclusive licence to distribute Vitamilk in Nigeria. She paid for a one-way ticket to Nigeria and the rest is history.

It was not the first visit to Nigeria for Nattanee, 42. She had gone to Lagos before to collect debts from some Nigerian clients and had seen the potential to do business there. She started importing slippers to Nigeria in 1997 but was finally beaten out of the market by cheaper Chinese products. She flew back to Bangkok to reopen her clothing and accessories wholesale shop. But her business at that time was in the doldrums due to the prevailing ban on entry visas for Nigerians, the major clients for the country's wholesale clothing markets. It was a double blow given the already poor state of the economy. So back she went to Nigeria with a determination to make the Vitamilk venture succeed. The chaotic and challenging conditions in Lagos were merely a minor inconvenience to her. "Just do it immediately, it's my key to success," she says.

She started with the first import of 100 cases containing 24 bottles each for a market trial. "The first lot was for free. I was smuggling my products into many wholesale markets in Lagos and convincing wholesalers to put tester products on the shelves," she recalls. The embryonic business took shape in the first year as Tukies Investment (NIG) Ltd, established as the authorised distributor for Vitamilk in Nigeria. "It's incredible," says Ms Nattanee. "My products' sales are growing much faster than I had dreamed."

Tukies last year distributed 200 containers of 1,500 cases each for sales of 720 million baht, a massive increase from the early days. Ms Nattanee says Vitamilk is the right kind of tasty product for the right market. A bottle sells for 150 niras or about 50 baht. Rival Lactasoy, another soybean milk import from Thailand, is not popular among Nigerians, she says.

Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria is still unable to produce enough goods for its 140-million population, making it one of the largest markets in the world. Ms Nattanee said that Thai product had an advantage in terms of image as Nigerians believe higher-priced Thai goods still represent value for money. However, Africa is still not an easy place to live in, she admits. "It is a genuine battlefield for a genuine fighter," she says.

"When they first set foot here [in Lagos], people just want to leave immediately. It's a dirty and crowded town, with pollution and disease, but it's such a good place to do business."

A Vitamilk Label
[ Photo Above: A Vitamilk Label ]
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Related Links:- 
Greenspot (Thailand) Co Website

Article originally published here
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