CEO of First Pick Food Ventures named Most Inspiring Entrepreneur of the Year

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The Chief Executive Officer of First Food Ventures, Mrs Vida Ofori Boahene, has been awarded the Most Inspiring Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2022 edition of the Women in Entrepreneurship Awards held on September 10, 2022, at the World Trade Centre.

It postdates the showcasing of products by entrepreneurs at the Ghana Women Entrepreneurship Summit held at the Kempinski Hotel in April 2022 under the auspices of Ghana Enterprises Agency.

She did not achieve this feat on a silver platter, as she couches it thus “it takes a life’s challenge to force us to make difficult decisions”.

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Recounting her story, Madam Vida indicated that it all began when she had to quit her job, a decision she took on March 7, 2019.

She writes: After I had executed my duties in the office, I voluntarily tendered in my resignation letter. I was determined to chart a new path. The daily mental agony I had endured for four years gave me this push. All these years whenever I thought of quitting, financial worries and advice from my family and friends held me back.

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Moreover, the time of my resignation was the period when my financial share towards my family was very critical because two of my children were entering tertiary institutions that year. As such, the decision to quit my job was particularly difficult. I was so ambivalent, scared, and had thought about my decision to resign for several months with anguish.

That being said, the mere thought of staying in the same job situation was so agonising! Each day as I passed by “Circle”, downtown Accra, Ghana’s capital city, in particular, as I approached the office, I panted, and my heart rate fastened. I was so stressed and miserable at work.

One day, as I stopped by some fruit vendors to purchase some fruits on my way to work, I suddenly broke down in tears without any provocation. Upset and confused, and not knowing what was happening to me, the fruit vendors wondered about what could had gone wrong – some wondered whether I had lost a loved one. I could not stop crying, I was so anxious and upset, my heart raced, my muscles were tight and could not even explain the reasons for my emotional breakdown to the vendors. I was so conflicted and confused, but I still braced myself to the office although I realized I had hit my breaking point! I knew that day that I had had enough and was determined to confront my fears and was going to change my situation.

You know, there comes a time in one’s life when she/he gets her/his wit’s end and nothing could persuade such a person to return to the past, whatever it may be. I had reached that point, and was not going to turn back. I was going to move forward at all costs!

In the meantime, there was no job offer for me. I had several interview opportunities but none of them led to a successful job offer. What was I going to do? As my mind raced back and forth, I then remembered past suggestions made by my niece Charity who often imagined that I could make good business in the food industry, by making one of my favourite dishes, producing Shito on a commercial basis. The thought of it triggered my memory further back to my secondary school years in the mid-1980s when I used to prepare delicious Shito (spicy local Ghanaian pepper sauce) that many of my classmates appreciated and enjoyed so much.

Quite frankly, I come from a family in which great cooking skills are a given. As children, cooking was an expected chore for which our mother, Mrs. Florence Aboagye, who we all affectionately called “Sisi”, drew regular schedules for each one of my four sisters and I (myself being the youngest of five) to ensure fairness and equitability. Although none of us really enjoyed cooking and often grumbled about the chore, the routine really sharpened our cooking skills. I recall our late father of blessed memory Mr. J.W. Aboagye, who we affectionately called Dada, a former Ghana Commercial Bank Manager, often praised us for our impressive cooking and meal preparation skills. In fact, all five of us have become excellent cooks.

As I went through my stress, lack of job offers and financial uncertainties, all of a sudden, I had an idea, a business idea. I was going to implement Charity’s suggestions to start my own meal preparation business! First, I thought of a business name, First Pick Food Ventures, and decided on registering it. The name First Pick Food Ventures, to imply my product would be the “first pick” for most customers shopping for similar products in every supermarket, and the adjective “PAPAPAA” (to signify the product’s superiority and uniqueness). I also thought the name First Pick Food Ventures was catchy, easy to remember and conveyed excellence.

Next, I prepared and took samples of my products for testing at both the Ghana Standard Authority and later, the Food and Drugs Authority. Amazingly, the samples met all requirements and were duly approved by the two main regulatory authorities (above) responsible for ensuring food safety and quality assurance in Ghana.

The timing was perfect! The onset of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that ensued coincided with the start of our production and created huge opportunities. During the weeks the lockdown restrictions prevented citizens from going to the market and grocery stores to purchase their own foodstuffs, I thought there was a potential need and vacuum for prepared meals and First Pick Food Ventures could perfectly fulfil that need for consumers. That was a hit! It was the best decision I have ever taken! Before I knew it, orders and sales surged, and my products were in high demand. The lockdown had indeed launched my business into the commercial production of Shito. It was exciting. The business was on a roll!

In recent months, the new product Ready-To-Eat Jollof Rice which was introduced in January 2022 has surpassed my expectations, with orders and sales continually surging.

Currently, First Pick Food Ventures products can be found in nearly all major supermarkets and grocery stores in Accra and across the country. My products are carried in Shoprite supermarkets in areas such as Osu, Junction, Achimota, Westhills, Takoradi and Kumasi Malls. We also supply to all Marina Malls as well as Total Supermarket Ritz Junction and Madina Market.

We showcased our products at the Ghana Women Entrepreneurship Summit recently held at the Kempinski Hotel in April 2022 under the auspices of Ghana Enterprises Agency. At that event, the Honourable Ministers of Trade and Industries and of Communication and Digitalisation, Mr. Alan Kyerematen and Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, upon stopping by our exhibition stand, expressed how impressed they were with First Pick Shito and Ready-To-Eat Jollof Rice. Both were overjoyed and expressed their pride for my achievements. Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful, for instance, exclaimed with surprise stating: “Ready-To-Eat Jollof Rice in a can? The first of its kind in Ghana. Thumbs up, I am going to let the President know about this initiative”. I was so happy and honoured enough to take photographs with them. I could not have been prouder of my accomplishments!

In spite of these successes though, I must admit that it has not been easy! As a startup business, there have been many ups and downs. At the outset, my new business faced delayed payments from retailers and snubs from retailers to carry my products on their shelves. On one occasion, a manager of one supermarket who appeared to ignore the impact of delayed payments on my new business insensitively uttered, “madam these are part of occupational hazards”. All I could say to myself was WHAT! It was a sad feeling. I did I not know how to react.

The delays in payment locked up funds, slowed down production and dried up the meagre resources I badly needed to keep running the new business. Attempts to obtain financial assistance from my banks were unsuccessful, I was turned down a couple of times because my business was still new and was unable to provide sureties as required by the banks to secure loans. Without any viable options, I turned to my family and friends scrape whatever they could to help sustain the business.

As if the late retailer payments and limited access to funds were not enough! Getting our products to be accepted was also a problem. Companies were not interested in my products as they were new in the market. I was often treated with cold feet even with gentle persuasions and persistence. After several attempts to get my products sold in one of the most popular supermarkets, the manager on one occasion declined me outright and told me that they were not interested because they already had lots of similar products on their shelves. That did not stop me from trying. Suddenly, my patience and gentle persistence paid off! As I kept following up with emails, the manager eventually agreed to schedule a one-on-one meeting with me. I then used the opportunity to bring product samples to the manager who accepted them and eventually agreed to carry them on their shelves.

There were several occasions when I took losses for expired and unsold products on the shelves at reduced prices. These losses and the associated stresses made me almost quit altogether. But I persevered. Amidst the stress, I would often treat myself with a popular dish and snack, locally known as kelewele (fried over-ripped spicy plantain side dish) my driver who was always by my side, drove me to the stores, cheered me up.

I would often rely on my family and friends to help me cover the losses that I incurred, and to get by. I kept going, turning on my family and faith to cope with the psychological stress. My late husband Rev. Kwasi Ofori Boahene, in particular, was my support and anchor! He played such a pivotal role throughout the twists and turns of this entire process. He was there whenever I needed a shoulder to lean on. Not only did he support me financially, but he also provided moral support and inspiration. I would often ask him to review my products and to provide feedback as if he was a prospective customer, and he would do so willingly and enthusiastically, often with such a sense of humour. At times, he would voluntarily ask: “Madam CEO, is there anything I can do to help you”? -often with a smile. Interestingly, my late husband’s reviews were often quite representative of those of the customers.

First Pick is also a beacon of hope to the less endowed in our environs and so far, our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) took us to Echoing Hills Village where food, sachets of water, clothing and detergents were donated to them.

With support from family, I thrived! Now here I am, First Pick Ventures is doing so well. This makes me think of the adage that goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”.

Looking back, I am happy about the bold decision I took. A difficult situation forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I would never have taken these decisions if things were comfortable and easy at my previous job, and as an employee of an organization where I could barely have any influence or control over decisions that affected me. I would not be running my own business and be where I am.

My short to immediate goals are to continue to improve the quality of my products, expand my business, inspire and mentor the Ghanaian women and the youth, to recognise the opportunities in entrepreneurship. I want to inculcate in them the power of Vision and Perseverance. As a proud alumna of University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) amongst the first pioneers, my course study of Business Administration has also helped me as a springboard in so many diversities.

My Mission is to help as many people as possible to realise that they do not have to be in the formal sector alone, hold white-collar jobs or emigrate elsewhere to be successful. My Medium to Long Term Vision is to enter the international market and to transform First Pick Food Ventures into world class manufacturing company. I will continue to learn from all experiences, improve, expand and hopefully play an important role in the development of the manufacturing sector in Ghana and Africa as whole.

In life, we need to have a vision, the motivation and the determination to pursue it. It may not be easy but with perseverance, our strong faith, determination and support from our families and friends, we can thrive and overcome our fears. I have just been awarded as the Most Inspiring Entrepreneur 2022 by Women in Entrepreneurship Awards. If I could do it, so can many of you, women, men and the youth of Ghana.

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