Blue Band manufacturer-Upfield celebrates 2nd anniversary with a return to growth

Interview: Upfield West Africa innovates and expands the Blue Band portfolio
Photo: Managing Director, Upfields West Africa, Moses Amao.

Upfield Foods, the new owner of iconic spreads brands including Blue Band, Rama and Flora, celebrated its second anniversary recently. Interestingly, Upfield announced a global return to growth this year following 11 years of declining revenue. Upfield bought the spreads business from Unilever in 2018 and has delivered this turnaround in just two years.

Managing Director, West Africa, Moses Amao, shares more about the journey so far and the company’s vision for the future.

Two years ago, Upfield was created by the acquisition of iconic spreads brands including Blue Band, Flora and Rama among others. How has the journey been since inception?

Upfield is a growth company globally and we are quite pleased that in two years we have taken a business that has been in decline for over 10 years under its former owner and moved it to sustainable growth. We are harnessing the knowledge and expertise of a pioneer with the agility and pace of a start-up to redefine the spreads category and foods business as a whole and we are seeing positive outcomes. We finished 2019 in a strong position in West Africa having built steady momentum quarter by quarter and continue that journey in 2020.

Tell us about Upfield as a company and its purpose as a business.

Upfield’s purpose is to make people healthier and happier with great-tasting, nutritious products that are good for you and for the planet. Upfield is the foremost producer of plant-based spreads and cheeses globally with more than 100 brands in its portfolio. At Upfield, we believe in a global food system that can promote sustainability and public health, through a shift towards more plant-based diets, which have been proven to be healthier for people and better for our planet. This we are doing by encouraging people to move towards plant-based diets, producing and making such foods available, advocating for policy incentives, and establishing partnerships that promote healthier, more sustainable foods.

How do you intend to deliver this purpose in Ghana?

Interestingly, Upfield is currently the only company manufacturing spreads locally in Ghana. Our nutritious brands are proudly made in Ghana while still harnessing the benefits of being part of a global operation. With our manufacturing plant in Tema producing Blue Band and Rama margarine, we source a lot of our key ingredients including Palm Oil sustainably from Ghana; actively contributing to the local economy. These products manufactured in Ghana are currently sold in several African countries including Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Benin and Cameroun. We see ourselves leading the nutritious food space in Ghana and West Africa as a whole in the coming years.

Blue Band is one of the most recognized food brands with a strong legacy on the African continent including in Ghana. How are you building on this legacy at Upfield?

Blue Band is indeed well known and loved in Africa and remains the spread of choice in most Ghanaian households as it provides affordable access to healthy nutrition for the whole family. One of the things we are especially proud of is that transfats have been removed from Blue Band and the current formulation is healthier and more nutritious than it has ever been. We are however not resting on our oars and plans are in place to continue improving on the formulation of our brands by adding on more nutrients and vitamins to deliver even better value to consumers.

How has Upfield been able to upturn the spreads business despite facing the same challenges as its previous owners including the volatility of some economies in Africa?

Our strategy has been one of aggressive growth. We were careful to acquire iconic brands with a strong heritage which we then injected new life into by putting innovation at the heart of all our brands. We expanded our distribution channels in-country and beyond to support our growth strategy. We are also investing significantly in our manufacturing plants as well as in our human resource to enable the growth we seek. 2020 has been challenging due to the pandemic but because our products are essential foods, the demand remains strong across the region and we are building on that demand for growth.

Speaking of COVID-19, how has the pandemic affected your business and what has been Upfield’s approach to meeting market and other demands at this time?

 At Upfield we are driven by our three values, Performance, Passion and Care, and these guide our response to every challenge we face. We cannot deny the pressure that the pandemic has caused businesses from border closures which impacted our export sales to movement restrictions and the reduced purchasing power of consumers. We have however faced it with out-of-the-box thinking in our marketing and sales to ensure we deliver on Performance. Our associates, which is what we call our employees, embody the value of Passion and we have supported them with various internal initiatives to keep the team healthy and inspired to perform even in this challenging time.

We have also embodied our value of Care by reaching out to the communities in which we operate at this critical time. In Ghana, we donated our nutritious, great-tasting Blue Band products to support the Government’s initiative to care for vulnerable communities and provide much-needed healthy food to low-income families. Upfield recognizes our heightened responsibility during this pandemic to ensure our nutritious, quality foods are consistently available to consumers and we are going the extra mile to ensure they are available on shelves across the country and region.

What are Upfield’s plans for the future in the short and long term?

Innovation will be critical for us. While we continue to grow our core products which are margarines and spreads, we intend to extend our brands into other nutritious food products to provide delicious options for our discerning customers. We will therefore invest in products where we have a competitive advantage to grow our revenue and our brand portfolio in line with our purpose and strategy.

We will also expand our distribution network in Ghana and across West Africa. We are investing heavily in our manufacturing plant to ensure we can cater to new lines and increasing production volumes. Our Professional Services business is also beginning to expand with the recent launch of our baking margarine which we will be exploring further to deliver consistent profitable growth.

Our long term strategic vision for “A Better Plant-based Future” aims to drive positive change in people’s health by encouraging them to embrace healthier food choices which are good for them as well as for the environmental sustainability of the planet. We, therefore, want to ensure that along with business growth, the positive impact our business has on people’s lives is tangible whether it’s through our products, our sustainable business practices or our social mission for communities.

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