I have been sent to one of the latest Joint Venture of Wilmar International. The newly established company, Murzah Wilmar East Africa Limited (MWEAL) is now a manufacturer of many of the country’s leading edible oils, soaps and detergent products.

I have been sent to one of the latest Joint Venture of Wilmar International. The newly established company, Murzah Wilmar East Africa Limited (MWEAL) is now a manufacturer of many of the country’s leading edible oils, soaps and detergent products.

I have been allocated to the Commercial Department, and have been tasked to conduct a Customer Mapping Exercise, which is essentially a full market survey and analysis across Tanzania. The aim was to achieve a thorough understanding of distributor’s stock availability, pricing compliance, market position, brand awareness, brand loyalty, consumer level perceptions and areas of improvements of our products. This exercise allowed me to travel to the Southern Highlands Region and Lake Region, spanning a total of 38 days of air, land and water travel. Together with my Sales and Marketing Executive, we have visited more than 450 customers, from the distributor level down to the end retailer, and lastly the consumer, covering the entire supply chain network. Due to the large number of customers to map, my internship has been extended by two weeks to complete the Lake Region Exercise, and to submit a report thereafter.

(At the top of the mountain overlooking Lake Victoria's Sunset)

To achieve the most effective outcome from the Exercise, I had created a Customer Mapping Database to store the customers detail and information as part of Customer Relationship Management. A customer mapping survey sheet was also developed to sieve out essential information from the customers from the exercise. On top of the above tasking, I was also assigned to conduct a focus group on consumers’ preference of fragrances for soaps and detergents, as part of the study to understand the taste and preference of consumers before rolling out the new products into the market. This allowed me to meet fragrance suppliers to discuss on the type of fragrances to be produced.

Lastly, as Tanzania’s purchasing landscape is scheduled to change in years to come, we have also met up with various supermarkets to negotiate on the terms of products listing on their shelves.

Learning Points and Experience

Foremost, the culture in Tanzania is definitely different from Singapore. From a more conservative Asian society, greetings amongst people are usually just a “Hello”. However, the Tanzanian people always start their greetings with “Mambo”, which translates to “Hi, how are you” in Swahili. As a majority of its people are unable to communicate in English, this has led me to pick up conversational Swahili to interact with customers I meet, and to communicate with the locals to carry out my daily needs.

(Children stopped to pose while having their morning wash)

Next, certain aspect of the payment process in Tanzania is still based on cash transactions. This pose a serious problem for large businesses as accountability becomes a serious issue. When a delivery is made, it is always a risk to carry a large sum of money. One interesting sight happened when I joined a salesman to collect a payment. The wholesaler took only a 30metres walk from his shop to his warehouse in broad daylight, but he had the cash strapped onto his ankles beneath his socks. This gave me an insight into the dangers of cash transaction.

Moving on, I have a deeper understanding of the FMCG industry after these 12 weeks. Due to the nature of my job, I had to interact with people throughout the entire supply chain, from the production line to the end retailer. It was a great opportunity to observe how the raw materials purchased from Malaysia and Indonesia were sent to the plants to undergo refining and other processes, before being sold to the channel partners, agents or wholesalers. These 12 weeks also made me understand that the supply chain network here is very different from developed countries, where consumers purchase FMCG largely from supermarkets, which leads to supermarkets having a very large bargaining power over the manufacturers, as opposed to the Tanzanian market where wholesalers have a large share of the profit due to its ability to influence prices in the market.

In addition to the stronger industry knowledge gained, I have achieved much from observing how the management team works and deliberate. From my Commercial Head, I have learnt the importance of data analysis. From the information received from the customer mapping exercise, I observed how he utilized the pivot table effectively to sieve essential data and achieve understanding of the respective information: pricing compared to rivals, products market shares in the different regions; product availability. Hard facts and numbers are required to gain a thorough market understanding before decision can be made going forward on what approach of pricing, product packaging, distributor network and quality control should be executed.

I am glad for the opportunity by Wilmar International to be placed in a new Joint Venture where many things are still in its development stage. As part of the Commercial Team, this has allowed me to partake in many of the activities which will lead to future growth of the company, and opportunities to suggest areas of improvement going forward.

This internship has led me to cross three national reserves, visited rural villages, experienced drastic weather changes of 30 Degree Celsius in the day and 5 Degree Celsius in the night, slept in more than 25 different hotels, motels and guest lodges. I would say that I have amalgamated fairly well with the Tanzanian culture.

In conclusion, this internship has been an eye-opener for me into the dynamics of the FMCG industry, provided me the opportunity to learn more about another culture, and also to be part of the international business environment. I strongly believe that MWEAL will strive to become a leading producer of FMCG products in the years to come, and am proud to be part of the pioneer team to bring the company to achieve greater heights.

Contributed by: Boh Xuan Jie

Published : 19 July 16




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