A Food Safety Signal: Improving Food Safety in Nigerian Traditional Market Systems
This blog was originally published on www.busaracenter.org.
Humans rely on visual and audio cues to help situate and unconsciously communicate what is going on. These cues act as a conduit of information and serve to elicit a specific response or reaction. For example, the familiar chirp of your notification bell almost immediately leads to the action of reaching for your phone. In a foreign airport, faced with language barriers and the need to relieve oneself, the familiar dark silhouette of a stick figure wearing a dress next to a seemingly disrobed stick figure automatically lets you know where the restroom is.
Such cues can be used to create behavior change. Feed the Future’s Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) aims specifically to create demand for the uptake of safe food practices among vendors and consumers in traditional markets in Africa. One of the primary concerns on the continent is the prevailing high level of malnutrition and food-related illnesses. Lack of an adequate food safety system, which is essential to addressing and preventing foodborne illnesses, is a major issue. Poor hygiene practices among food handlers coupled with other structural barriers, such as inadequate storage facilities and water availability, accelerate the problem of contaminated food, all of which makes a case for why food safety matters.
Under the USAID-funded program, EatSafe, Busara carried out a study on how to increase food safety practices in traditional, rural markets in Northwest Nigeria through the use of a visual cue targeting food vendors. In Nigeria, sociocultural norms and personal and environmental hygiene practices greatly influence consumers’ and vendors’ attitudes toward food safety.
The approach was tailored: consumer behavioral science was leveraged to improve knowledge, attitudes and practices related to food safety by developing prototypes through cocreation workshops, which were then pretested to gather feedback from consumers and vendors, allowing for contextualized adjustments. The interventions were then tested to determine their potential to bring about behavior change. More precisely, the uptake of safe food practices both by vendors and consumers through the creation and implementation of a safe food brand — Abinci Fes-Fes, which means “clean/impressive-looking food” in the local Hausa language. The name and tagline were one of three initially developed and based on local terms that signify clean food, using a mix of slang and proper Hausa. The three were then tested among 347 respondents made up of Hausa-speaking consumers and vendors to find out which option was preferred and appealed the most while communicating the brand idea. Forty-five percent selected Abinci Fes-Fes as the brand name and 47% selected “Sai wanda yafi kyau” as their preferred tagline. Fes-Fes is a well-known Hausa slang term denoting cleanliness; additionally it is used colloquially to describe something impressive-looking. “Sai wanda yafi kyau,” which translates to “only the best,” ties in the idea that safe/clean food is the best choice for the consumer.
The design of the Abinci Fes-Fes brand was based on a theory of change that aimed to understand the influences and environment surrounding food safety in traditional food markets.
The brand’s implementation involved an opt-in program for vendors who had participated in EatSafe’s food safety training. Vendors who participated in the training were diverse in terms of the commodities they sold (i.e., grain, meat and vegetables). Only vendors who agreed to comply with the measures outlined during the training were able to be part of the Abinci Fes-Fes brand. These vendors were provided with branded materials to wear (Figure 1), serving as a visual cue to consumers. The value proposition of these materials was to help shoppers easily and quickly identify trained vendors who are committed to food safety.
Figure 1. Image of the kit (dustbin, apron, cap and bunting). Illustrated by EatSafe.
To drive demand, a below-the-line campaign was deployed to raise awareness and educate consumers on the importance of food safety and what the brand signifies. The campaign included activities such as dramas, games and the use of influencers, such as market leaders.
Findings thus far, based on observational studies and consumer surveys to monitor impact, show Abinci Fes-Fes has had a positive impact on vendor sales and consumer awareness.
Vendors expressed a high level of interest in remaining in the Abinci Fes-Fes program due to an increase in customer patronage. Our observational study also showed the majority of vendors maintained the food safety practices they were trained on, i.e., safe food handling, vendor hygiene and stall hygiene (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Summarized icons of safe food practices. Illustrated by EatSafe.
Consumer surveys showed that the brand successfully created an easy shopping experience, with a majority of consumers indicating a preference to shop from Abinci Fes-Fes vendors. The demand creation campaign effectively educated them on the importance of food safety and increased their awareness of safe practices for handling their food.
“Before, I just spread my grains carelessly to sell, but after the training and enlightenment, I organize things neatly not just the grains I sell but also my outfits and body…Fortunately, that (branding) has increased the flow of customers because we look clean and different from those that are not involved with Abinci Fes-Fes.”
Atiku Murtala, Grain Vendor, Kebbi Central Market
“They are very accommodative and their items are cheaper compared to other vendors; their shop is always neat and as a customer you’ll be happy how they display and keep their items in an orderly manner. They keep their shop very neat and clean. They also have a dustbin that they use to trash their bin and even when you go there you won’t have any regret on buying from them. Even the items they sell have been covered well. Like lettuce for instance, before when you buy, you’ll notice some sand particles but now they wash them very well. Really, they have changed a lot, before you’ll see them with dirty cloth but now, they have particular clothes they wear whenever they are coming to market and this makes a lot.”
Male consumer in Sokoto state when asked about his shopping experience with an Abinci Fes-Fes vendor.
To sustain the intervention, adjustments to the current framework are necessary, such as selecting high-performing vendors as ambassadors and involving the local government and market management in its implementation, thereby enabling market stakeholders to own and see it through.
The success of the Abinci Fes-Fes brand in Nigeria showcases the potential of consumer behavioral science in improving food safety practices. Through training and creating consumer awareness, the brand has created a demand for safer food and led to behavior change among vendors and consumers. With proper modifications and support, this intervention has the potential to be sustained and replicated in other traditional markets globally.
This blog was made possible through support provided by Feed the Future through USAID, under the terms of Agreement #7200AA19CA00010.
For more details on EatSafe program activities, visit www.gainhealth.org/EatSafe.