US Food Chains Grow in Nigeria, along with Public Health Concerns

Published on 16 November 2021 at 11:30

With a variety of restaurants in Nigeria's cities, grabbing a bite is becoming more diverse. From eating options like street food, fast food and luxury dining, Nigerians seem to be enjoying the blessings of a thriving food industry.


The growth of the Nigerian food industry is also energising American fast food brands as they are beginning to have a foothold in the country’s metro cities. A few weeks ago, Burger King, one of America's leading fast food chains, opened its first Nigerian outlet in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.


While the presence of another global fast food chain brings more finesse to dining in Nigerian cities. It can serve as  an opportunity in disguise for Nigerians to enlighten themselves on the nutritional impact of these dishes, most especially what it means to their individual health.


Fast food concept is originally a North American and European style of serving easy prepared meals to consumers with little or no wait time. Although fast food dishes are widely labelled as junk food or highly processed meals with low nutritional value, fast food dining has nevertheless spread across regions of the world, thus becoming a global phenomenon


Nigeria has not been left behind as people are gravitating towards the fast food culture. Elites in highbrow neighbourhoods who can afford to eat fast food do so on a daily basis. Likewise, people who are not financially buoyant can satisfy their spontaneous craving by usually reserving “fast food treats” for weekends and public holidays.


Without a doubt, “fast food treats'' might be a reason for the huge turnout of Nigerian people in franchises located in middle and low income neighbourhoods during the public and festive periods.


Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone started their Nigerian operations in 2012, and their franchises were located in major markets of the country (Lagos and Abuja). In the space of 9 years they have expanded into 6 other states (Enugu, Oyo, Imo, Rivers, Ilorin and Cross River).


Before the pizza chain ventured in Nigeria, foreign staples like burgers, fries and sandwiches were served by indigenous fast foods like Tasty Fried Chicken, Chicken Republic and Mr Biggs.


However, the experience of dining inside a fancy building, labelled with an international brand is a pot of gold that multinationals can easily sell to developing countries. Kassim Kunle said “since I can’t afford to leave the country, at least eating something foreign brings an exciting experience that travellers have witnessed; when I eat pizza, I feel like I am enjoying myself”.


With at least 7 American fast food companies (KFC, Krispy Kreme, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dominos and Cold Stone) competing in Nigeria, it would not be far-fetched to expect more fast food multinationals to place their chips on the Nigerian food industry.


Meanwhile, growing multinational fast food ventures in Nigeria could also put the country at the frontline of  the underpinning issues of highly processed food consumption, such as obesity and other health issues.


According to Healthline, one large slice (167 grams) of Pizza Hut Pepperoni Lovers Pizza contains 460 Calories: Fat: 26 grams, Carbs: 37 grams, Sugar: 1 gram, Sodium: 900 m. This slice of pizza contains about the same amount of calories with 2 servings of the average Nigeria staple dish (Jollof rice, fufu).


In addition to the high level of sodium and harmful ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colourings and high-fructose corn syrup, these junk meals are usually served with fizzy drinks which is also another cause for concern.


Health practitioners in the country are showing more concern that the new eating pattern of Nigerians might be a ticking time bomb on the public health of the country. Last year, Dr Obi Igbokwe said Nigerians have begun to adopt a western lifestyle of consuming readily available and cheap high-calorie food and spending much time sitting.


“Obesity not only brings issues of physical change on the body but can cause potentially life-threatening conditions including Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer, and stroke”’, said Dr Obi.


The West African country is dealing with rising cases of obesity, especially amongst its urban population, where fast food is in high demand. In 2020, Davies Adeloye et al estimated that about 12 million persons in Nigeria suffer from obesity, with prevalence considerably higher among women. Davies believes that rising income, urbanization, processed diets and unhealthy lifestyles are driving factors behind the obesity epidemic in Nigeria.


Nigeria is not the only emerging country experiencing a surge in obesity, possibly due to a junk food lifestyle. For instance, obesity in India has been rising and health expats in the country are pointing fingers at junk food consumption and sedentary habits. Obesity among Indian adults is expected to triple between 2010 and 2040, and by 2040, an estimated 30% of the Indian population could be overweight.


In the last 20 years, India has been a promising investment destination for various American fast food chains. McDonald’s alone has over 200 outlets in the South Asian country. Meanwhile, other North America companies like Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s pizza, KFC are growing in double digits.


In 2019, the global fast food market was valued at $647.7 billion. What might be surprising to readers is that developing countries are contributing significantly  to this profit margin. Fast-food chains claim that their penetration into developing markets was triggered by reaching a “saturation point” within Western markets.


A TMR report indicates that Asia Pacific and Rest of the World are the fastest growing markets for fast food, due to the large population that resides in these regional segments. Meanwhile, some economists believe that the so-called “saturated point'' is a disguise, as people in western countries are aware and conscious of the intoxicating ingredients of junk food, thus negatively affecting fast food sales.


In addition, expats say global fast food chains are trying to penetrate more vulnerable markets, where people hardly discuss calories, junk food and general wellbeing.  With growing fast food chains in Nigeria, the country might also need to create more awareness around watchful consumption of junk food, to avoid an unmanageable surge of health calamities.

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