Dr. Kwabena Adje is the founder of Alomo Bitters, Africa’s most popular and respected herbal drink. Recently at a travel conference, he went down memory lane on how it all started in this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, African Travel Times Publisher/Editor. Excerpts:
How did Alomo Bitters start?
It started when one day I thought of our forest and the possible benefits health-wise that we can derived from it to enhance humanity through herbal medicine because our forefathers used to chewing certain leaves; as well as roots that they soak in alcohol which they drink before eating anything in the morning which is the man-power aspect of my product.
Time past, our local chiefs marry so many wives and in order to stamp out jealously among them, they use herbs to enhanced their performance – to the extent that they can move from wife one to wife five in turn.
After a thorough thought through, I asked myself, what type of herbal drink can I make and what should form the ingredients, knowing fully that whatever I am going to come up with will not be done crudely the way and manner our forefathers did theirs in the past because plants are like mushrooms that are very nutritious but can be very dangerous if you eat or even touch the wrong ones.
With the aforementioned in my mind, I decided to approach a Ghana government agency that was affiliated with World Health Organisation [WHO] then called the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine, an institution for research into herbal medicine that I have an idea to produce a drink with herbal ingredients and they told me they cannot help because they are just a research institute and do not do commercial ventures.
To cut the long story short, it took me about two years to convince them to even listen to me. Thereon, they now then asked me, gentleman, what do you want the research institute to you?
I said to them, am a producer of alcoholic beverage and that I want to introduce a herbal drink with medicinal components or ingredients that can treat appetizer and they said to me they have it, I also asked for any herb that can treat pile because is very common in our community because of some of our meals, and they said they have it.
Again I asked if they can recommend any plants that takes care of body-pains and they said its available and finally the one that can help our women during menstrual and they said its available.
Finally I requested that emphasis should be focused on the man-power aspect of the drink because I said to them that no matter how powerful a man is, if he cannot satisfy his wife sexually, the wife will not be happy with him.
On their own, they advised that malaria is a common and prevalent issue in Sub-Sahara African and that herbal drink without malaria component will not go far was how the anti-malaria aspect was added.
After the lengthy discussion, we agreed on fee which I paid to enable them carryout clinical and laboratory studies; as usual, they carried out the tests on animals and eventually certified the ingredients and the process to be followed safe and that such will pose no danger for the consumers.
Finally, the research institute gave the formula and process/quality control/measurement that we started production with till date.
What were the initial challenges?
I was already in business and had enough knowledge of what I was doing and the path to growth that I want to follow.
The only issue was to enter in an agreement with the research institute for initial 10 years to supply us with the concentrate – thereon, we were producing and selling and the institute was also making money.
How rich are you, I am asking this question because of how fast ‘Alomo Bitters’ is selling in Nigeria?
That question is dicey because we started from a very small background and we are moving up. I have very little or nothing for myself because we keep re-investing to grow the business and that is what most Africans don’t do because once they make good money they begin to show off.
My car is about 10 years old and still not ready to buy one now.
I am different from most Africans business men or women. I don’t really need much money, but mostly concerned with the legacy I want to leave behind for Ghana, Africa and for Africans.
My efforts are about showcasing Africa and the black race – that what the white are doing, Africans can do it too.
How difficult entering regional markets like Nigeria?
To be honest, we did not encounter much challenges entering. However, problem started when we entered properly.
Before opening office in Nigeria, the product ‘Alomo Bitters’ was already very popular because Nigeria will come to Ghana and stay almost two weeks just to get supplies to take to Nigeria.
Seeing that breaks my heart and it was at that point that we decided it was time to move in. Thereafter too, faking of the products started. To directly answer your question, faking is our major challenge.
How are you handling it?
Though we had entered the market because of the stress that the people coming to Ghana to buy supplies from us going through, I was initially very skeptical of moving into Nigeria, fearing that faking of the product will damage our brand.
Faking in Ghana here can be checked when you harass those doing it with police, but as for Nigerians, they are more aggressive that someone once joked that if you put a lion and cash in one spot, a Nigerian will do everything possible to retrieved the cash; whereas for us Ghanaians, we would simply run away.
But because Nigeria is a very big market, we have to venture. Today, we are trying to be ahead of the people faking our brand by introducing a special bottle cap, colourfully decorated with our logo to distinct them from the faked ones.
We are also working with Custom here in Ghana and in Nigeria. Not left out in Nigeria is close relationship with the State Security Service [SSS] and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC].
Besides what we are doing with authority, we have also hired a private security company that works with NAFDAC that goes around and reports any suspended faking people or company to the authority for necessary action.
Since those listed initiatives, our brands have started picking up again and we have started running adverts in the media which we titled ‘Shine Your Eye’, to warn customers to be watchful.
How much supplies come to Nigeria and do you produce enough to go round so that you don’t leave a gap for the people faking your products to fill?
According to the manufacturer of our line production machine, we are the fastest growing alcoholic product in the world.
Our line produces 30.000 bottles of ‘Alomo Bitters’ per hour and we have 40 staff in Nigeria and I have just approved another 42 more to come on board.
How do you raise Alomo Bitters to elitist level because at the moment, it seems it’s for lower level people?
As a company, you must grow or you die. Without doubt, we are working very hard to repackage all our products and we hope that all our mega and luxury hospitality as well as super markets across Africa will stock our products.
We have won several major awards from both respected organizations in both Ghana and Nigeria and my sincere hope is to make Alomo Bitters the Jonny Walker of Africa.