Lola Okunola – The Nigerian disrupting the Popsicle Food Industry
Royal Pops, founded by Lola Okunola, is a gourmet gelato popsicle company that uses only natural ingredients. The company started 5 years ago in West Africa and is in over 20 stores in Nigeria with a factory in the heart of Lagos. From orders of 10 pops to over 7000 a month now, Royal pops has become a household name in Lagos.
Its popularity encouraged the founder to start production in the United Sates. In May 2017, Royal Pops made it’s debut in Atlanta, GA.
1. Tell us about yourself and your business
I’m a 20-year industry executive with experience developed from corporate and entrepreneurial positions. A Nigerian happily married with two amazing children. I studied Business Management for my Bachelor’s degree and I have an MBA with a concentration in Information Systems.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, I had worked in the financial services, technology and public health sectors. I moved back to Nigeria from the USA after my husband was offered a job hoping to find a role in the Nigerian public health sector, but there was nothing suitable at the time.
I saw a need when I moved to Nigeria and I decided to fill it. At the time there weren’t any healthy frozen treats that were locally made. I was coming out of a bout with stomach issues and was in the process of changing my diet to a healthier one.
I started making small batches of popsicles as a treat for my family and friends and through word of mouth people started calling me to order them. I realized that there was a real demand and opportunity so I decided to get some training, purchase equipment to produce large quantities, and apply for a NAFDAC license.
Popsicles are refreshing because of their frozen nature. Especially our popsicles because they are made of fresh fruits and natural ingredients.
My background in Public Health sparked my interest in wellness. I learned the importance of healthy eating and gained my overall hard working ethic from years of working in IT and Public Health.
Our pops are healthy and are less than 100 calories so they are a great snack if you’re trying to stay fit. They are great after a meal or whenever you feel like it. Some people have them stocked up in their freezers at home too. They are also a great night time snack.
2. How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
I started my business with $20,000 from my savings. Most of it went towards machinery, rent, and licensing.
3. What are the biggest challenges running Royal Pops and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge we face with running Royal Pops in Nigeria is the issue of power. Our product has to be kept frozen and if they melt they lose their shape. Keeping the popsicles frozen take us having power 24 hours a day.
This means we have to run our generators often and the cost of diesel definitely increases our expenses. It also means we have to be selective about the stores that carry our popsicles. They have to be stores that keep their power on.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
I see Royal Pops expanding into other major cities in Africa. My vision for Royal Pops is to make it a household brand name born out of Africa.
Already I have expanded to Atlanta, Georgia with Royal Pops and also have introduced a new product – Royal Wholesome Foods, a healthy grab and go meal company.
5. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business or invest in Africa?
Entrepreneurship is fun and rewarding; however, it takes a lot of hard work, determination, and persistence to become successful. Never be afraid to start small, just start, and grow organically. Africa has many challenges but also many rewards. It’s fertile ground for new products and services and a lot of the continent is ready for new things.
Africa is a great continent to invest in for many reasons. The population, growth in general and enlightenment. More and more global companies are setting up in Africa bringing people from all backgrounds. Most products and services are no longer unique to the West. It’s a great time to introduce new things to Africa. Stay focused and do not get discouraged.
6. How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
Asides from providing employment to 20 people and their families. We are helping people to indulge in healthier treats and also creating another buy product of fruits, which we have in abundance. Sourcing our fruits locally helps reduce importation of our raw materials and importation of foreign frozen treats. All this will in turn help our economy.