Shoprite, the South African-based retail and fast food company, is reputed to be the largest in Africa. The company, which is listed on the Namibian and Zambian stock exchange, operates in over 1,200 corporate and 270 franchise outlets in 16 countries across Africa and the Indian Islands. Since its entry into Nigeria in December 2005, the retail giant has unarguably become the largest and most patronised shopping outlet in Nigeria. But its operations have come under severe criticism, especially in recent times, on account of alleged sale of adulterated and expired products. Why has Shoprite been able to serve their customers with expired and adulterated products with impunity for so long? Why have the regulatory agencies reluctant to wield the big stick for so long? Consumer Life examines the company’s recent brush with the law over safety rules and identifies ways consumers can protect themselves against unwholesome products.
Many Nigerians were shocked when the news broke late last year that the Ikeja, Lagos branch of Shoprite had been sealed by the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) for breach of safety law. Shoprite, which has the largest fast moving consumer goods retail operations on the African continent, was accused of selling expired and adulterated products at its Ikeja outlet. Investigations were said to have been conducted by the commission that confirmed the series of complaints received before carrying out the action.
Consumer Life learnt the mart was eventually reopened for business following the intervention of a commissioner and permanent secretary in the state. But the LSSC which sealed the store said the management of Shoprite had shown enough commitment in terms of meeting LSSC’s conditions in terms of occupational health and safety practice.
However, consumers across the country are still worried that similar infractions could still be going on at other outlets spread across the country, insisting that the sale of expired products at the Ikeja branch of Shoprite is not an isolated case. Sarah Moses, a student said she once bought a small crate of eggs from the Lekki branch of the super store for her mother only to realise that most of the eggs had gone bad. Another customer said he bought a Binatone silver kettle which stopped working in less than two weeks. Three years ago, a concerned Nigerian warned consumers to check the expiry dates of whatever they bought from Shoprite claiming that a family just lost their son who died from food poisoning after eating expired cheese bought from the store. He also warned Nigerians to be wary of their specials of beef, dairy products and chocolates. Some other consumers have reported seeing expired beverages, chocolates, cheese, etc on the shelves of various branches of the retail giant.
Consumer Life learnt that some Nigerians who buy expired products do not do so out of ignorance. John Salako, for instance, was one of the hundreds of customers who visited the newly opened Shoprite located in Abuja’s largest shopping mall, the Jabi Lake Mall, for a shopping extravaganza in November 2015. According to him, he bought many tins of milk at highly reduced price. “Some of them had expired only a few days while others would expire in a few days as at the time we bought them, but the milk was still good when I tasted it so I have no regret joining many others to clear the items from the shelves,” he said. Obviously Salaka is one of the many Nigerians who are still ignorant of the health implications of consuming adulterated or expired products.
Concerned Nigerians are worried that the regulators such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), are not doing enough to rid the marketplace of expired, adulterated or unwholesome products. On June 2014 for instance, the then Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, launched a campaign to enforce expiry dates on product labels and to sensitise consumers on the issue. This campaign was replicated in states across the country by CPC.
The Lagos office of CPC launched its version of the campaign tagged “Check the BB Date” in July 2014 to sensitise consumers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, open market operators, supermarkets, shopping malls, warehouses and storage facility owners and all those involved in the consumer goods supply chain on the need to ensure compliance with the “Best Before” (BB) requirements of the country. Despite the fact that the campaign is ongoing expired and adulterated products are still boldly displayed on shelves across the country for consumers to purchase.
The standard requirement of the country is that consumer products such as food, packaged water and drinks, chemical products, tyres, foams and many others should carry a BB date. According to Section 8 of NAFDAC’s Pre-Packaged Food (Labelling) Regulations 2005, “For any pre-packaged food item, the date of minimum durability shall be specified and legibly displayed.” This requirement, however, is not applicable to fresh fruits and vegetables, alcoholic beverages, bakers’ or pastry-cooks wares, vinegar, food grade salt and solid sugars.
The section also states that “Where the date of minimum durability is specified, it shall be prescribed by the words “Best Before” or “Use By” or “Expiry” and shall be legibly displayed as prescribed by the agency.” The day, month and year of manufacture is also expected to be on the label. Notwithstanding these provisions of the law, a lot of infractions are still in the marketplace.
What to do
The surveillance and enforcement officers of the various regulatory agencies should embark on frequent routine checks of malls, shops, supermarkets, factories and warehouses to ensure that consumer products not only meet the standard requirements but are stored in acceptable conditions. Non-compliant products should also be removed from the shelves, factories and warehouses and destroyed. Consumers, manufacturers and all those involved in the product distribution chain should be enlightened on the need to comply with the “BB” standards. The regulators should make consumer education a continuous process.
The Nigerian factor
The regulatory authorities should shun the Nigerian factor whereby offenders are left off the hook once bribes are paid. In some instances, the “big man” syndrome plays out whereby some top government officials intervene on behalf of offenders and the matter ends there. In both cases, there is no prosecution and the consumers are left still vulnerable to the sharp practices in the market place.
Manufacturers, importers, retailers
Manufacturers, importers, retailers and all those involved in the consumer products distributive chain are obligated to provide the consumer with adequate information on the status of their products in order to build and sustain consumer confidence on such products. This can only be achieved if they comply with the international best practices in terms of manufacturing and storage standards, as well as the BB requirements. A situation where consumer products are stored in unhygienic conditions should not be allowed to continue.
The task before consumers
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s Pre-Packaged Food (Labelling) Regulations 2005, makes provision for the labelling and appropriate dating of certain consumer products. Some states also have laws on dating of foods and drink products as well as over-the-counter medications. Despite these, contravention of these laws is commonplace.
Consumers, therefore, have a duty to protect themselves so that they can remain healthy. Many do not pay attention to the expiration dates on the items they are buying and this is not a wise thing to do. Henceforth, consumers should start looking at the expiration dates on the consumer products they buy. If an item has a BB date that’s already past, the wise and safest thing to do is to pick another item. If the date is close one could consider whether the entire product would be used before the expiration date. If such item is not for immediate consumption, it is advisable to avoid it. By so doing consumers will be getting value for their money.
The consumers’ right to information is sacrosanct. Therefore, they are expected to demand and get information about the products they desire to buy before picking them off the shelf. They will be better protected if they avoid products with inadequate or no information to guide their buying decisions.
Checking the sale of expired or adulterated products in the country is a collective responsibility. If you find an expired or adulterated product in any store, inform the manager immediately. If nothing is done to get it off the shelf, write the appropriate authorities like NAFDAC, SON, CPC or the state’s agency in charge of consumer safety. Better still, contact Consumer Life at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +234-7088580444 for advice and action.