Nobert Okafor has been selling since he was seven years old. At that time, he spent Christmas and holidays with his grandmother, who grew bananas in the village in Anambra state, Nigeria. His grandmother would give him to make sales.
“I would start in front of her house and when the sales reduced, I’d moved the location to the front of my father’s compound. It was along a busier road,” he remembers. “When that didn’t result in sold-out stock, I went to the village market.” Following the demand worked and Okafor would receive praise from his grandmother when he returned having sold all the bananas.
“It all started in front of her house and, when sales decreased, I changed the location to the front of my father’s building – it was on a busy highway.” “If I don’t run out of stock, I’d go to the town market.” After the success of the process, when Okafor sold all the bananas and returned, he would be praised by his grandmother.
Thirty years later, Okafor now 37 years is the CEO of Noberto Group, its subsidiaries Nobleman Industries, Joofid Construction Company, Noberto Farms and the newly added Noberto Renewable Energy. He is still actively seeking sales but has added plantain, cocoa and their processed products to bananas.
When his father died in 2004, he took over the family business. His father set up an equipment company that manufactured Caterpillar heavy machinery from scrap and spare parts and leased them to construction contractors.
“It was my first exposure to mechanization and its impact on agriculture when I had to help my father as a teenager.” From 2004 to 2010, it was all about family and side businesses.
In 2010, Okafor founded Nobleman Industries, the group’s first venture, and acquired 500 acres of land in Cross River State, Nigeria. He set up a cocoa tree nursery and transplanted 100 acres of cocoa trees. Plantain trees are alternated with cocoa trees to provide extra moisture during the dry season.
The Noberto group supplies cocoa crops to traders, who sell them to exporters.
Okafor immediately saw a challenge that needed to be addressed. The fluctuation in the price that raw cocoa beans were fetching on the open market was less than ideal and he decided diversification further up the value chain would help the business.
He began testing his own chocolate recipe in his garage, grinding the cocoa beans by hand and adding sugar and milk until he was happy with the taste. Friends received the chocolate to sample and soon encouraged Okafor to produce on a larger scale so they could buy.
Slowly, he divested some of the inherited land assets from his father as well as heavy construction equipment and scrap. Bit by bit, the company acquired the machinery needed for cocoa processing from the US and by 2015, Okafor had raised enough capital to set up a processing facility in Enugu state on land his father had previously procured.
In the same year, the brand’s first group of chocolates was launched. At the same time, it started to process gluten-free plantain flour. Noberto Group strives to acquire its products on retail shelves, becoming stable over time.
In 2018, the group added 30 hectares of land in Uzo-Uwani LGA near Adani, about two-hour drive from the factory.
Noberto Group is currently focusing on expanding its influence in the Nigerian market. Its Chocolates are available at local supermarkets and pharmacies in seven states. Cocoa and banana powder and plantain flour are sold directly to bakeries. Cocoa butter is purchased from the body lotion manufacturer.
The group does its own distribution in the state of Enugu, but outside these borders it distributes directly and delivers to supermarkets.
Okafor believes plantain flour has a global market, and demand is coming from African diasporas and consumers looking for gluten-free options. “We are working with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to find export opportunities,” he said.
For chocolate products, the group seeks regional and possibly Asian markets. “We didn’t really see a market for our finished chocolate products in Europe. Our product, cocoa butter, could be needed by the market. ”
Noberto’s current processing capacity is 10 tons of cocoa per month. According to Okafor, it was deliberate to maintain a slow and steady growth at first because he wanted to test the product. Before we make a serious effort to grow, we need to provide the perfect formula that suits local tastes.
“We now have seven chocolate recipes that our employees love and now they can consider making more investments and seeking stocks.”
In addition to the cocoa production capacity, the group can also transform 5 tonnes of plantain into flour and 3 tonnes of banana powder per month.
The company now raises cattle at its factory in Enugu. The medium-term goal is to replace all the milk needed for processing the chocolate with its own milk. So it is artificial insemination of cows for herd formation.
“The processing sets us apart from other cocoa producers in the region,” said Okafor. “Since we started processing, it has brought a new look and benefit to our business.”