When Daniel Adeyemi was living overseas, one food, more than any other, tasted like home: Indomie.
"In Nigeria, everyone seems to know about Indomie," Adeyemi told VICE Indonesia. "I would assume that 60 to 80 percent of Nigerians have eaten Indomie before. A lot of people love the brand, and they also love the product, the noodle itself."
The humble instant noodle is a giant in Nigeria, Africa's second-largest economy, where it controls 74 percent of the market. And that's actually a drop from 2006 when Indomie had a near monopoly of the instant noodle market in Nigeria. It's so ubiquitous that, for many Nigerians, all noodles are Indomie.
"Indomie is replacing the word 'noodle' [in Nigeria]," Adeyemi said.
So how did Indomie take over dinner tables in Nigeria? The noodle's manufacturer PT Indofood Sukses Makmur partnered with the Nigerian food company Dufil Prima Foods back in the late 80s and opened the country's first instant noodle factory a few years later. Today, the company runs the largest instant noodle factory in Africa, pulling in more than $600 million USD a year as the eighth most-purchased brand in the world, according to a survey by the brand research firm Kantar Worldpanel.
When Indomie arrived in Nigeria, the instant noodle market was nonexistent. And unlike markets in Asia and the West, most Nigerians weren't used to eating noodles, explained Tope Ashiwaju, the public relations and events manager, at Dufil Prima Foods.
"I can tell you that growing the business initially was very tough because it was totally strange as it wasn't part of our menu in Nigeria," Ashiwaju told BrandSmart. "We looked at it and said this is something we would want to compare favorable with the stable food like rice, beans, yam, bread."
Nino Setiawan, an Indonesian citizen working in the imports-exports sector in Nigeria, credits a man named Mohan Vaswani, the chairman of the Singapore-based Tolaram Group, with raising Indomie's popularity in Nigeria. The company partnered with Indofood owners, the Salim Group, to bring the instant noodles to Africa.
"In the 80s, Mohan Vaswani came here with two containers of Indomie and he distributed it," Nino told VICE Indonesia. "He really knows how to educate people so that the staple would shift to include Indomie."
The company heavily marketed the instant noodles to the Nigerian market, arguing that it was as important as staple carbs like rice and bread, but that it was somehow a healthier option. It was also the only game in town for more than a decade and well-positioned to capitalize on Nigeria's rapid economic growth after 16 years of military rule ended in 1999. Between 1999 and 2014, Nigeria's gross domestic product grew by $431 billion USD.
But there's another reason behind Indomie's insane popularity: Nigeria's population boom. The country quadrupled its population in 50 year's time. It's a growth rate that one United Nations study believed will allow Nigeria to become the world's third-largest nation by 2050, overtaking Indonesia.
Decades of a population boom means that Nigeria has been getting younger and younger. The average mother has between five and six children in her lifetime. That's a lot of busy mothers, and a lot of mouths to feed. Enter Indomie, with a series of popular ads that positioned the meal as a quick-and-easy option for overworked moms.
"It filled the space in between a light snack and a solid meal," Adeyemi said. "And let's not also forget the fantastic effort of the media agencies handling the brand who, in my own honest opinion, positioned the brand so well that you have no choice but to love it. Some of their campaign songs and print ads were quite memorable."
The commercials were so popular that most Nigerians had zero idea that Indomie (a portmanteau of "Indonesia" and "mie" or "noodles") had anything to do with Indonesia. A short documentary on Indomie's success in Nigeria doesn't even mention Indonesia, and instead links the instant noodles to Singapore.
It's a common mistake. Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said that most Nigerians now think of Indomie as a local product. "In Nigeria, there are 10 Indomie factories," he told local media. "So they claim Indomie came from Africa."
Adeyemi believes that the company may have purposely distanced itself from Indonesia in the early days to avoid any negative political sentiment about a foreign brand controlling such a large share of the market. But he doubts that anyone would care today, he said.
"I think a whole lot of Nigerians don't know Indomie has a connection with Indonesia," Adeyemi told VICE Indonesia. "I think they don't even care. Nigerians just want to have something good and tasty. To them, everything else is secondary."