Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
The world’s largest food and beverage processing company, Nestle, plans to continue investing in its Zimbabwean operations, which it says are poised for growth despite the prevailing economic challenges.
A new business model which revolves around reducing dependency on imports, developing the local industry and capacitation of farmers in the coffee and dairy sectors to supply high quality inputs, is being explored, as the US$250 billion conglomerate expands operations.
The firm says it is piloting an empowerment project for women where they are being trained as merchandisers to sell products in various communities.
These commitments were revealed by a high-powered delegation from the Switzerland head-quartered company after a courtesy call on President Mnangagwa at his Munhumutapa Offices in Harare yesterday.
Chairman and managing director of Nestle South Africa Mr Bruno Olierhoek outlined the company’s vision for Zimbabwe and expressed confidence his company would thrive in the long-term.
Mr Olierhoek’s delegation included Mr Chris Johnson, the executive vice president and chief executive officer for Asia, Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Mr Ben Ndiaye, the managing director for the company’s East and Southern Africa Region responsible for operations in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
The meeting came at a time when Harare was working on improving the business climate through a raft of reforms which have seen the country being ranked by the World Bank as one of the 20 improvers.
The commitment by Nestle to continue operating in Zimbabwe should be seen as an endorsement of the re-engament exercise that Government has embarked on.
“Nestle has been in Zimbabwe through thick and thin and our commitment to the President was that we will try our best to stay in the country and to thrive despite the situation on the ground,” said Mr Olierhoek.
“So, this requires us to change our business model, to be less dependent on imports, to develop the local industry and work with the farmers in the coffee and dairy sectors and to increase what they can supply to us as per the standards and to build from there.
“We have strong brands like Cerevita, Nestle Cerelac and other products and so we have indeed invested in additional capacity and that will come on stream early next year and that is exciting.”
Nestle, which has a powder milk producing plant in Harare, has been operating in the country for six decades.
It has embarked on deliberate efforts to capacitate local people.
In 2011, Nestle launched a 10-year dairy empowerment project which has seen the distribution of over 600 dairy cows and heifers to farmers contracted to supply milk to the firm.
As of last year, Nestle had invested US$5,4 million into the dairy cows and heifer scheme.
The firm has started a women empowerment scheme in Harare before spreading it to other areas.
Mr Olierhoek said they were working on a project where they would recruit unemployed women and equip them with skills on nutrition and selling Nestle products in the neighbourhoods.
“So, we are piloting this in Harare and the plan is to go beyond and cover the whole country,” he said.
“The people can make some money and they have access to the products that are affordable and this allows Nestle to grow and make further investments in Zimbabwe and moving forward as well.”
The delegation had come to see the local operations ahead of Nestle Zimbabwe’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
“We talked to His Excellency that we have been in Zimbabwe for 60 years now,” said Mr Olierhoek. “We are celebrating next month our 60th year, so we have some visitors from Switzerland that we wanted to show our operations in Zimbabwe and the President was obviously very interested to know what is the progress that Nestle has been making, particularly in the area of affordable nutrition.
“This is the area that we have been working on. We have been working on having the best quality products that are nutritious and affordable for the people with raw materials that are sourced as much as possible from the country.”
Last year, Nestle launched a five-year coffee production programme at a cost of $1,2 million. Under the programme, smallholder farmers will produce and sell coffee to Nespresso at above market prices.
The project started with 450 farmers, with 51 percent of them being women. At its peak, Zimbabwe produced 15 000 tonnes of coffee, mainly for export.
Nestlé Zimbabwe has invested upwards of US$30 million in upgrading old plants and installing new ones for its cereal products; cerelac and cerevita, together with the dairy products.
It employs over 100 people on a permanent basis and many others as casuals, merchandisers and distributors.
On a global scale, Nestle employs 308 000 employees and its products include baby food, coffee, dairy products, breakfast cereals, confectionery, bottled water, ice cream and pet foods.