Have you ever thought of going into a convenience store or a supermarket to buy akara?
Do not even think about it!
Nigerians will agree with me that it is a stupid thing to do. Well, if you decide to go ahead still, what you will find is “cheese balls” instead of akara (beans ball). You will find sachet wheat-flour cakes instead of sachet beans cakes (moi-moi or opka) or rice/corn cake (masa). You will find Coke drink instead of Zobo (Roselle) drink. You will find Soya drink instead of Kunu (cereal) drink. You will find many packaged foods that are not African, like cookies/biscuits, crackers, loaves of bread, cakes, candies, rolls and pies.
Short Shelf Life of African Foods
Supermarkets and convenience stores businesses are very concerned about the shelf life of the goods they sell. The shelf life of a good is very important to a seller and a buyer. The shorter the shelf life of a food, the riskier it is to store that food. This is a big change for supermarkets and convenience stores because they buy their goods in very large quantities, store and sell to the final consumer. On the other hand, no consumer will knowingly stock his or her kitchen with food that will definitely get bad few days later.
Most African convenience foods have a very short shelf life so stocking them is a very bad idea. They can get bad just after two days of production. Foods like akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi start to get bad just after a day. This is not so with other cakes of foreign origin. The most comparable cake of foreign origin, which is the wheat flour cupcake, can easily be found on the shelves of supermarkets in Nigeria. They have a shelf life of about 2 weeks.
The short shelf life of akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi can be tied to factors like high moisture content, the presence of oil or fat, the absence of preservatives and poor or bad packaging. Biodegrading organisms are most active in a moist condition, thus can quicken the break down of food into an undesirable or even toxic product. Fat or oil gets stale or rancid when exposed to light and microorganism that break down fat and oil. In addition, when a product is not properly packed or sealed, the product will certainly get bad faster compared to the same product that is properly sealed. This is because the pack is not airtight so there is an increased or maximum contact with atmospheric moisture and organism that encourages deterioration.
Poor Packaging and Branding
No supermarket or convenience store will display a product that is not well packaged and branded. Good presentation matters a lot in the business of buying and selling. Products have to be appealing and attractive to buyers. African foods have good taste and smell but good taste and smell cannot attract the eyes. In a supermarket or convenience store, aesthetics is important. The most consumed Nigerian drinks are zobo and kunu and they are sold inside used bottles of different water bottling companies. Supermarkets or convenience stores will never stock that kind of product on their shelf.
The Job of Food Scientists
Nigerian food scientists have evidently and obviously not lived up to societal expectation as regards to adding value to Nigerian convenience food and African foods in general. According to the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT), a food scientist studies the physical, microbiological and chemical make up of food and by applying their findings; they are responsible for developing the safe, nutritious food and innovative packaging that line supermarket shelves everywhere.
Nigerian food scientists should wake up to this responsibility and come up with the best ways to process, preserve and store African foods. They should come up with akara, masa, okpa, moi-moi, zobo drink, and kunu drink and other local convenience foods that are easy and cheap to produce, store and sell without the foods losing their essence.