Branding jollof rice

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes. Sparkling wine has a significant level of carbon dioxide in it, which causes the bubbles in the wine. There are many fully sparkling wines in the world, e.g. the German Sekt, Australian Shiraz, the Spanish Espumoso, the Italian Spumante, and the French Mosseux.

White sparkling wine, named Champagne, is the most popular type of sparkling white wine and is responsible for 80% of worldwide sparkling wine production. Champagne is a region in NE France, 160km East of Paris. There is a Champagne-style for making white wine, so in theory, China can use the Champagne method with imported French grapes and yeast and make sparkling wine, which will look and taste just like French sparkling wine made with the Champagne method, but No.

Champagne makers have strictly defended the use of the name “Champagne” via the Madrid System. In the EU, it is illegal to sell any sparkling wine called “Champagne” even if the grapes are grown in France, and wine made using the Champagne method, but not in the Champagne region. This restriction on the champagne name is also in force in 70 other nations, including the US.


The Champagne regions took the commonality of white sparkling wine and branded it “Champagne.” Then legally protected that name and marketed their own white wine as different, premium and special, by linking it to royalty and higher income demographics which worked. Today, Champagne is synonymous with premium, classy and high-end celebration; you cannot serve just white sparkling wine, you serve Champagne (which is white sparkling wine).

“The village of Champagne in Switzerland made wine labelled as Champagne from 1657. In an accord with the EU, the Swiss Government conceded in 1999 that by 2004 the village would phase out use of the name. Sales (of their wine) dropped from 110,000 bottles a year to 32,000 after the change.”  By losing the name “Champagne,” sales dropped 243%.

Why? The Swiss white wine from champagne is not Champagne, so consumers moved on. Products are vulnerable but brands are powerful. Premium branding creates more income and grows market share in a crowded market.

Apple does not make phones, it designs and sells them. According to HIS Markit, the Apple iPhone 8 plus with 5.5-inch with 64 gigabyte memory costs $288.08; it sells for $799. How can Apple sell a $288 phone for $799? Because the Apple brand is premium? I can also go to FoxConn (Chinese company that makes iPhones) place an order for 5.5 inch plus with 64 gigabyte, pay $288, label it Kalu Phone, but can I sell it for $799? No, why? Nobody will buy that phone, even with same components, for $799, because it’s not an Apple.

Let’s talk about Jollof Rice

I am not interested in who invented Jollof Rice, I am interested in how Nigeria can gain economically from it, growing market share thus building export revenues.

Jollof rice is rice, but like we have seen with Champagne, wine is not wine. Therefore, Nigeria should make a sovereign move and trademark jollof rice. A trademark is a legally protected word, name, design, logo, or other symbol of your product or business. Trademarking jollof rice gives Nigeria the legal right to lay claim to “Jollof Rice.”

Organic food consumption is growing, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The U.S. organic food market shows that sales climbed from US$ 1 billion in 1990 to US$ 31.5 billion in 2011 (by perception, there is nothing more ‘organic” and “fresh” than Africa).

According to Proexport, “the most influential food product consumers in the U.S. are the “baby boomers”, comprised by citizens age 50 and older, who control 70% of the available income. The trend in this age group shows greater awareness on the importance of healthy eating habits. Therefore, Proexport recommends avoiding the marketing of food products containing high levels of fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial coloring and gluten, considering that 78% of these individuals read the labels and avoid these ingredients.”

Still quoting Proexport“the ‘Millennial’ generation, comprised by youngsters between the ages of 15 and 33, is another sector with great potential because it is more willing to try new products such as tropical fruits, non-traditional grains and exotic food in general. When it comes to buying food, they look for elements such as: organic certifications, recyclable packaging, products supporting sustainability and a fair price.”

From the quote above, the consumers with buying power in US, are going organic, thus I see a business opening to position jollof rice as an organic healthy choice. This can only happen if jollof rice is made distinct from other rice brands in America (such as Uncle Ben’s). This can be accomplished by exporting Nigerian jollof rice branded as organic and healthy.

US Trademarks are managed by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO).  The Ministry of Trade and Investment can submit its application today, own that name then “walk back” to the answer and build an export market around jollof rice. This should mean no one can export rice to the US or EU called Jollof Rice, (even if its jollof rice) because the name will be owned by Nigeria. Nigeria can essentially convert a commonality (rice) into a premium brand—Jollof Rice.

This won’t be a 10-year plan, it will take much longer, but the benefits are clear. As local rice production ramps up, Nigeria creates another export line that can bring in export dollars. Nigeria has the power of population and Nollywood and can begin the long process of re-branding jollof rice as different from rice, and perhaps one day in Whole Foods, jollof rice will command a premium price, and bring revenues to farmers in Nigeria, even as oil revenues dip.

Just as Champagne is not white wine, there is a business case in differentiating Jollof Rice from rice.

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