Erisco Tomato Saga: Redirecting narratives on Consumerism

By TheNewspad team

Since September 2023, when a largely unknown Chioma Egodi, a Nigerian Facebook user posted on her timeline a stinker on Erisco Foods Limited after tasting the company’s tomato mix, Nagiko Tomato Mix, the Nigerian media, mainstream and social, has been awash with the fallouts that the post ignited between her and the management of the food company.

The facts of the story are out there in the media. But each turn of events in the running story has come complete with volumes of comments and positions in the media and social media; some supporting Mrs. Egodi, while others have been supportive of Erisco Foods.

Owners of Erisco Foods Limited have not relented in pushing their own point of view. Like the spokesman of the company, Nnamdi Nwokolo said, Erisco will “take all necessary actions against any malicious attack on our reputation.”

Egodi had claimed to have bought Nagiko Tomato mix sold in tins after she failed to find her favourite Gino Tomato brand in the market.

She further claimed that when she tasted Nagiko, it had more sugar than tomatoes (Erisco and NAFDAC have actually admitted that sugar is an ingredient of tomato mix).

Her discovery was rather disgusting according to her, so she made her feeling known on Facebook. Within a few days, her post had generated almost 4,000 comments.

While responding to one Blessing Okeke’s comment on the post, Egodi said, “Go and tell your brother (owner of Nagiko Tomato paste) to stop killing people.”

This incensed the management of Erisco Foods Limited, which considered the ensuing matter to have become too serious to be ignored as an ordinary social media drama. Erisco took it as a syndicated act instigated by its market competitors “to mislead our esteemed customers and discredit the image of Erisco Foods Limited.”

The company did not only file a petition of criminal conspiracy against Egodi, it also ensured that the police arrested her and moved her to Abuja where she was made to sign an undertaking to apologise to Erisco, pull down her post and do a retraction on her timeline to say that the information she gave out about Nagiko Tomato Mix was wrong and that she was sorry about it.

Egodi after securing her bail failed to retract and publicly apologise to Erisco and claimed that she made the undertaking with the police under duress. Further efforts made by the police to make her keep to terms of the undertaking failed before the police charged the matter to court.

Subsequently, Erisco as part of its efforts to prove that its product was genuine and safe to consume, made the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Lagos State Consumer Protection Council to issue statements confirming the genuineness and safety of Nagiko Tomato Mix.

The company further carried the campaign to certify the validity and safety of the product and the reputation of the company to the mainstream media. It equally launched a campaign on the social media where various persons and blogs ran posts on how safe Erisco Foods products are and why they thought that Egodi’s Facebook post on Nagiko Tomato mix was an organized job to run down the company and its products.

Appearing on Arise News, the Founder of Erisco Foods Limited, Eric Umeoji, said they would not have put the heat on Egodi because she did not only make her post and allow people to review the product, she went on to call for the destruction of the product, and her company, which he said had spent over 40 years to build.

He alleged that Egodi fell into the hands of tomato importers that had been trying to destroy Erisco. He said Erisco would sue Egodi for N5 billion damages.

Umeoji made similar prime time appearances on other national stations like Channels and AIT. Erisco Foods did not stop there. It began a media campaign not only to justify its action against the lady, but also to further shore up the brand image of Nagiko Tomato mix and indeed that of Erisco Foods Limited.

The response in the media was uproarious. Erisco Foods came under attack for criminalizing a matter that looked like a civil matter, even as the company vowed to make Egodi pay for her ‘sin’ no matter what it would take it to do so.

But many media commentators felt Erisco went too far, and its efforts to punish the lady could cause more damage to its products and image.

Dave Eleke, a journalist, writing from Awka, said, “Some battles are better left unfought no matter how small your opponent may be.”

He said while Erisco is spending so much money filing charges and doing media campaign against Egodi, the lady was getting more sympathy and popularity from the saga.

He also said Erisco taking a different approach to the issue would have succeeded in making Egodi a brand manager of Nagiko Tomato mix.

Irrespective of what shades of opinion, positions or turn of events the Egodi/Erisco saga has taken, certain lessons have evolved out of it all.

The ding-dong narratives have given a new consciousness and impetus to customer relations, integrated marketing, image laundering, cyber bullying, legal rights and obligations of customers to review products they consume and many more.

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission of Nigeria Act of 2018 grants certain rights to consumers, which include reviewing products and reporting harmful products the commission.

For one thing, the Egodi/Erisco saga has redirected attention to the tomato subsector, which for a long time did not gain much space in the media. Like Chukwuma Ndugulu, one of the fans of Erisco said on his social media handle, the saga has awoken other tomato brands to advertise their products to woo customers.

Consumerism will no longer be the same again, said Clifford Solomon, a Port Harcourt-based journalist, who said, “People will now paid better attention to the product they and services they buy or consume. When the service or product is not good enough, they know what to do.”

A Nigerian lawyer, Peter Okolo, said on the matter, the protection that consumers enjoy to review products they consume nit withstanding, consumers who resort to cyber bullying using the social media could be found criminally culpable.

“Cyber bullying is the act of intimidating, threatening, or coercing people online through the use of social media, email, text messages, blog posts, or other digital or electronic methods. It is also called digital harassment and usually involves the use of derogatory, aggressive, or threatening language.”

Besides, Okolo said, giving out false information about a product, knowing that the information is false and could lead to damage of the product in the market or dent the image of its producer, could be both criminally liable and entitle the producer to seek and get redress in court.

Could Egodi be entitled to some damages from Erisco in the whole saga? Okolo said yes, it is possible if she goes through the right procedures. “First,” he said, “She could have reported her finding to the producer, and then report to the regulatory authorities. And she did not get satisfactory responses from them, she could head to court.”

What is the role of the Federal Competitive and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) in all of this? When the matter came up, FCCPC tried to mediate but it could not because the police was already handling it.

But part of the act establishing the commission mandates it to handle complaints from customers against producers of the goods and services they consume.

Where will the Egodi/Erisco saga end? It is yet unknown because the parties are still pursuing the matter involving criminal conspiracy Erisco brought against Egodi in court, while the Founder of the company has vowed to sue her for N5 billion damages for the businesses Erisco has lost because of the Egodi’s social media post.

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