The humble instant noodle is a giant in Nigeria, Africa’s second-largest economy, where it controls 74 percent of the market. And that’s actually a drop from 2006 when Indomie had a near monopoly of the instant noodle market in Nigeria. It’s so ubiquitous that, for many Nigerians, all noodles are Indomie.
So how did Indomie take over dinner tables in Nigeria? The noodle’s manufacturer PT Indofood Sukses Makmur partnered with the Nigerian food company Dufil Prima Foods back in the late 80s and opened the country’s first instant noodle factory a few years later. Today, the company runs the largest instant noodle factory in Africa, pulling in more than $600 million USD a year as the eighth most-purchased brand in the world, according to a survey by the brand research firm Kantar Worldpanel.
When Indomie arrived in Nigeria, the instant noodle market was nonexistent. And unlike markets in Asia and the West, most Nigerians weren’t used to eating noodles, explained Tope Ashiwaju, the public relations and events manager, at Dufil Prima Foods.
Nino Setiawan, an Indonesian citizen working in the imports-exports sector in Nigeria, credits a man named Mohan Vaswani, the chairman of the Singapore-based Tolaram Group, with raising Indomie’s popularity in Nigeria. The company partnered with Indofood owners, the Salim Group, to bring the instant noodles to Africa.
The company heavily marketed the instant noodles to the Nigerian market, arguing that it was as important as staple carbs like rice and bread, but that it was somehow a healthier option. It was also the only game in town for more than a decade and well-positioned to capitalize on Nigeria’s rapid economic growth after 16 years of military rule ended in 1999. Between 1999 and 2014, Nigeria’s gross domestic product grew by $431 billion USD.
But there’s another reason behind Indomie’s insane popularity: Nigeria’s population boom. The country quadrupled its population in 50 year’s time. It’s a growth rate that one United Nations study believed will allow Nigeria to become the world’s third-largest nation by 2050, overtaking Indonesia.
Decades of a population boom means that Nigeria has been getting younger and younger. The average mother has between five and six children in her lifetime. That’s a lot of busy mothers, and a lot of mouths to feed. Enter Indomie, with a series of popular ads that positioned the meal as a quick-and-easy option for overworked moms.
The commercials were so popular that most Nigerians had zero idea that Indomie (a portmanteau of “Indonesia” and “mie” or “noodles”) had anything to do with Indonesia. A short documentary on Indomie’s success in Nigeria doesn’t even mention Indonesia, and instead links the instant noodles to Singapore. The company may have purposely distanced itself from Indonesia in the early days to avoid any negative political sentiment about a foreign brand controlling such a large share of the market. Debatable on whether it is the correct thing to do but well, the profits show that it’s well justified.