“If Titus’ price hike first struck the bricklayers, sometime in 2020 it started to knock Nigeria’s favourite delicacy from the tables of the sort of people who read Arbiterz”.
In the early 1980s, Titus Sardine used to be a prayer point for little kids. They fervently wished to become old enough to have pocket money like older siblings so they could spend 30 kobo on a can of Titus and consume it all by themselves with the aid of 10-naira bread.
Titus Sardine has also over many decades been the nation’s most democratic delicacy. Everybody could afford to buy a can – bricklayers having lunch at building sites, 16-year-old secondary school students who did not want to eat the eba mummy prepared for lunch, the humble office messenger’s or carpenter’s family before church on Sunday. Titus Sardine is so delicious no one, no matter how rich, felt the need to buy the more expensive sardine brands. The Moroccan Titus very easily has brushed off any semblance of competition from posh European or American canned sardine brands like Princess.
The Titus Sardine brand, made by the Unimer Group SA, leader of the seafood sector in Morocco, has been in the Nigerian Market for over 80 years; the brand is over 100 years old. It is marketed in Nigeria by Ekulo International Ltd.
Nigerians kept buying Titus Sardines in the 1990s and early 2000s when the price rose to N150 and between 2010 – 2018 when retailers sold the brand for between N250 – N300. Unimer Group SA and Ekulo International Ltd though have had to make some ‘structural adjustments’ to keep Titus Sardine affordable.
Titus Sardines used to contain four pieces of fish but in 2010, this became two pieces of bigger fish with the price at N250. By 2014, the content of the famous Titus Sardine can was three smaller pieces of fish. But that same year, consumers spotted some cans with five smaller pieces of fish. Some Nigerians expressed fears that the inconsistent content was a prelude to a price hike. A consumer commented on August 13, 2014:
“Just saw 3 pieces of fish in a sardine can. Before today it used to be 2, and in the past it was 3. My questions are: 1. Are they planing to increase the price? … This is weird cost food prices never crash and instead of the quality improving it actually …”
2020…A Precipitous Adjustment
It is very likely that Titus Sardines had become unaffordable to some socio-economic classes e.g., bricklayers having lunch, as the manufacturer and retailers made adjustments in packaging and pricing over the decades. If Titus’ price hike first struck the bricklayers, sometime in 2020 it started to knock Nigeria’s favourite delicacy from the tables of the sort of people who read Arbiterz.
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The retail price rose between 2020 and February 2022 to between N650 and N800. Suddenly, many Nigerians across various socioeconomic classes found Titus Sardines too expensive. No doubt the ousting of Titus as the peoples’ favourite delicacy is explained by policies that have made foreign exchange scarce, unstable, and expensive, thus a powerful driver of inflation.
Mixing and Switching …The Rise of “Lesser Sardines”
Nigerian consumers are dealing with the hike in the price of Titus Sardines in various ways. An entrepreneur who lives in Victoria Island said that he noticed about 16 months ago that his wife started buying brands like Milo Sardines. He is the sort of Nigerian you would think would always be able to afford Titus. The alternative brands his wife was buying were of distinctly inferior taste to Titus. His solution was to buy four to six cans of Titus whenever he went shopping at Shoprite in Lekki. But he stopped buying when the price rose to N800. He explained that N3,600 for four cans was a significant addition to his usual N12,000 to N18,000 of largely discretionary shopping, i.e. purchase of things like coffee, yogurts, and biscuits that he largely consumed alone.
A 33-year-old executive in a software firm in Ikeja said that he now mixes Titus Sardines with other brands like Milo when he goes shopping. Some of the alternatives to Titus that Nigerians now buy, besides Milo, include Marock (N350) for N350, Costa Sardine (N370), Mega Sardine (N200) and Sonsa Sardine (N210). Milo retails for N330.
Iya Ibadan, a trader in Ikorodu told Arbiterz, “In 2015-2018, the price of Titus Sardine was N250 to N300 but now Titus Sardine from the wholesalers is N550. Some of us sell to customers for N600, some higher. But there are different types of sardines, we now buy the lesser types too because more customers are asking for them”. Iya Ibadan said that she used to buy ten cans of Titus Sardines every time she went shopping to replenish her small neigbourhood stall when it was the only brand her customers demanded.
A housewife, Mrs. Olajide said that she used to buy three dozens of Titus Sardines “when the price was N250”, but now she can’t even buy a dozen as it would “affect other things I already budgeted for”.
Mrs. Ibidapo, a consumer in Iyana Ipaja said she remembers very well “in 2015 to 2018, I used to buy Titus Sardine for N250. I still remember very well then, but now I can’t afford to buy due to the price”. She now buys Milo and sometimes prepares roasted fish for her family in place of canned sardines.
But Titus Sardines remains king in the minds if not the tables of Nigerian consumers. All of the people we spoke to agreed that the taste is far superior to the alternatives. It has been dethroned by inflation rather than changes in taste or the arrival of tastier alternatives.