LAE - Mande Chicken is a small manufacturer nestled within Gabsongkeg near Nadzab.
Owner Tim Numilengi, a food science graduate, has worked in the marine food manufacturing sector and with various development programs around the Pacific Region for several years.
His past employment gave him the opportunity to observe processing facilities to see what worked and what failed. Eventually, he chose what he wanted for his personal project.
After a long time thinking about it – he started the paperwork a few years back – he got down to work. After visiting poultry local farmers in the area he decided to build the Mande model.
Tim’s first Cobb chicks arrived and he began his first tasks as a poultry farmer supplier for Tablebirds before building his small plant eight years later.
“Big scale poultry farming is a scientific and sophisticated business,” he said. “New technology is being developed every day and we have to move with the times.
“Innovation is a priority. I have built a chicken facility with modern processing.”
The only two local suppliers of meat birds, Niugini Tablebirds and Zenag – both based in Morobe province – are not able to meet the demands of the Papua New Guinea market.
“Chicken continues to be imported from Malaysia and Australia to meet the market demand,” Tim says.
“I spent a few years saving up to invest into my business expansion plan from an out grower to producer-manufacturer-distributor. By November 2019, the process line was in place.”
He installed killing cones for stunning and bleeding chicken and a scalding machine. Water heats up to 60ºC to soften chicken feathers before plucking the feathers. A plucking machine removes chicken feathers.
Tim also installed a gutting table, a sink with pressurised water for washing and cleaning the chickens and a vacuum sealing machine for whole round birds and a cutting machine for chicken pieces legs, wings, thighs and breasts for packing in 900g trays.
He invested in a modern blast freezer for freezing the products to minus 35°C and a cold storage facility for storage at minus 18°C.
Whilst this was unfolding, Tim developed his brand, barcode and ordered his labels and packaging from abroad.
“It is a substantial investment for our small business. This includes building our own water treatment plant and installing a one kilometer power line from the main PNG grid on the highway.
“We have to constantly fix the feeder roads from the main highway at our own cost,” he said.
After his small plant was commissioned, Tim secured a BSP SME loan in February 2020. Mande Chicken was ready for Lae consumers two months later on 13 April.
“We had six staff and employed an additional 15 from around Gabsongkeg, Wampar LLG – most of whom were laid off from full time work during Covid-19.”
At full throttle, Tim slaughters 1,000 chickens a week on his fully automated poultry facility and delivers on Mondays, Wednesday and Friday.
He found favour with an Asian retail outlet – Sinowell at Eriku - and started retailing there. The rest of his stock was sold through Facebook.
Mande ‘Big Kai’ line was introduced at K13.50 and was an instant hit. Tim says, he is not out to take on the bigger businesses – Tablebirds and Zenag - but he wants to help bridge the supply gap as an SME (small to medium sized enterprise).
Seen in the supermarket, Mande Chicken might seem a world away from Tablebirds and Zenag in terms of retail space but the business is rural and based on smallholders in Gabsongkeg.
“We opened our first Mande shop to sell our chicken, but that didn’t last long,” Tim said.
“Covid-19 restrictions on consumer traffic and a decline in overall cash circulation in the city forced us to close in September 2020.”
Tim reluctantly moved back to Gabsongkeg, Nadzab, where he operates from today.
“Covid-19 restrictions choked cash flow,” he said. “I urge the government to put more effort in economic recovery and working around Covid-19.
“We need cash to survive, pay overheads and repay the SME loan they have given us.”