Saturday 24 March 2012
It's all the way you package it...
Wrapping it up nicely obviously works. If it didn’t, manufacturers wouldn’t waste millions making packaging companies and advertising agencies rich.
If I ever needed proof, it has just landed on my desk.
Marcia is understandably quite excited about her new shop. The trucks with all the materials to build it have still not arrived allowing even more time for her eager anticipation (and impatience) to intensify. Our current little shop has done well. I call it an African Trading Post because that is what it is. It has tiled floors, not swept mud, and glass in the windows, even a false ceiling and electric light as well as freezers and coolers but the lack of aircon, crude wooden shelves and counter lend it an impermanent, out in the bush air.
While hanging on to her existing client base, Marcia wants the new shop to be significantly further upmarket. Certainly the building will be. It will look something like a Black Forest Delicatessen and will be built out of wood on sturdy supports so that customers can sit and drink coffee or whatever on its wide wood decking and look over the surrounding countryside. It’ll be nice.
For that reason, our current stock range which, if only for reasons of filling the shelves in a shop six times larger, is inadequate.
At the moment our shop is not called a shop in Portuguese, it is called a Cantina. This is only one step up the ladder from a ‘Janela Aberta’ an ‘open window’, the sort of hole in the wall shopping experience you only get in the rougher neighborhoods where letting a client into the shop is asking for trouble. Marcia does not want to be known for running a Cantina. She wants to be referred to as the owner of a Loja, a shop. In order to guarantee her social aspirations, she has been searching for products worthy of her new emporium and, as I mentioned at the beginning, one such product has just landed on my desk.
A 500g pack of Milaneza Lasagna sheets (from Portugal) costs around 400 Kwanzas here, about 4 US$. We sell 500g packs of Fortaleza Spaghetti (made in Brazil) for 100 Kwanzas. Both make excellent bases for Italian pasta dishes and both fly off the shelves. Both are simply packaged in unimaginatively designed but functional plastic bags. Same goes for the tortellini, fettuccine and macaroni. At least you don’t have to worry about patching the layers of lasagne, half the pack is already no more than irregular sized patches, such are the hazards of transportation.
‘How much does this cost?’ I asked, admiring the packaging I had first thought contained a bottle of malt whisky or something else equally worthy of such care and attention to detail.
‘700 Kwanzas! What would you have to sell it for?’
‘I paid 700 for this packet just to show you. The supplier says if I buy in bulk he would give me a big discount’
‘Did he also say he had plenty in stock’
‘Oh yes, how did you know? He says he’s got loads!’
I could tell by the condition of the Pasta visible through the cellophane box window and the condition of the packaging in general that there was no real need to check the sell by date but I did anyway. Good until 2014. This is a box of pasta that is already at the pricier end of the market in UK. Sainsbury’s sells plain lasagna sheets for a dollar but sell Garofalo Lasagna at three dollars. I was going to have to sell it here for seven dollars but if Marcia could negotiate a bulk reduction then we might at least break even if I can resist turning our profit into Lasagna-in-my-stomach. Sometimes you drop lucky but generally, if a wholesaler has plenty of stock and is offering discounts, there’s a reason for it. Let’s hope that in this case the average Garofalo Pasta buyer does not shop in Lebanese run warehouses and that his regular buyers weren’t willing to take the plunge when they can sell as much Fortaleza as they can carry.
The thing is, it was always my intention to go up market. Starting at the budget end was a realistic option faced with operating off a building site. Certainly we could never expect to sell Garofalo products out of the existing shop. That is one reason I bought the other piece of land closer to the main road (and out of reach of the sea) and have paid enough to make sure the new shop will be nice.
‘I think this is a brilliant idea, Marcia’
‘I think it is very clever to devote half the new shop to higher quality products to attract the more discerning client’
She looked at me clearly unable to decide if such was sarcasm and deserved a kick in the teeth or I was being genuine.
What Marcia has forgotten and I haven’t is that I want to build a large cold smoker and start preserving some of the excellent fish being hauled out of the sea on our doorstep. There is a fish here the locals call Maccarao but when I look it up on the internet to get its latin or English name all I come up with is Portuguese macaroni recipes. It is a fast full bodied fish weighing anything from 15 to 25 kilos and its flesh is pink and makes ideal sushi. The South Africans next door call it Kingfish but then they seem to call a lot of fish Kingfish so I can’t be sure. It fights like hell and will take all your line unless you let it ‘take you for a walk’ which is how the fishermen here refer to having to follow the fish with the boat until it gets tired. It would not be the first time that with muscles burning I have said to the boatman, ‘here, you take the bloody rod and I’ll drive’.
I reckon it would smoke beautifully and am convinced it could be the African equivalent of Scottish smoked salmon. In Germany, there is a company called Lava which makes vacuum packing machines. The one with my name on it is a heavily discounted thousand US (with a 400mm triple sealing self cutting head, ooh, sexy). If I had my cold smoker, I could smoke filets of this fish and any other likely candidates and package them properly for sale in the shop. Quality products for a quality shop. I could also similarly package the Parma style hams I am going to produce after air curing them in the rafters of the thatched Jango.
So you see, if I encourage Marcia in her quest for quality products, I am one step closer to my smoker and vacuum packing machine. And it will all have been her idea.
‘Tell me, Marcia, what made you go for this particular product?
‘Well, the box was so nice…’
Now there's a business plan.