Sub-Saharan Africa’s strong GDP growth, growing middle-class, and fast urbanization have attracted many investors and foreign retailers to the region in recent years. There is no doubt that the region’s demographics offer massive opportunities for consumer goods industry. But, a closer look at the ground reality and recent experiences from multinational companies operating in the region reveals the magnitude of challenges that need to be carefully assessed.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) recent growth, expanding middle class, rapid urbanization, and growing household incomes have made it a promising market for the consumer goods industry. In recent years, several reports and industry experts have labeled the region as the ‘next big thing’ with massive potential. Although there is no denying that the growth outlook and market opportunities in the region are promising, there are considerable challenges that firms have to assess and overcome in order to succeed in these frontier markets.
“… we have realized the middle class here in the region is extremely small and it is not really growing.” – Cornel Krummenach, Chief Executive equatorial Africa region, Nestle (June 2015)
“If you look at how difficult it can be in Africa to move goods across a border, the fees and expenditure involved, the red tape, and the lack of suppliers for supermarkets, it’s discouraging.” – Boris Planer, Chief Economist, Planet Retail (March 2014)
Beyond the well-known infrastructure challenges, one of the more overwhelming challenges for consumer companies is to gain a complete understanding of the highly fragmented retail industry. As retailers and consumers remain widely scattered, effective route-to-market and distribution becomes a daunting task. In addition, the complex procedures, and bureaucratic obstacles result in supply disruptions and higher operating costs. For instance, Shoprite, a leading regional retailer, spends nearly US$ 20,000 weekly on import permits to transport goods for its stores in Zambia alone. In Nigeria, Shoprite keeps a warehouse full of flour, while PZ Cussons keeps up to three months of stock in Nigerian factories to ensure a constant supply.
“To operate successfully beyond our home border we had to learn to trade over vast distances,” he explains. “We had to invest heavily in supply chains, information technology capabilities and international sourcing skills, as trading in Africa is still logistically difficult.” – Whitey Basson, CEO, Shoprite Group
The famous song ‘Africa’s not for sissies’ holds so true for the region’s consumer goods industry. As SSA is a culturally diverse region with its heterogeneous consumer goods market, retailers need to think local and act local. They need to develop a comprehensive understanding of consumers, their spending behavior, and shopping habits. As traditional retailing will continue to hold significant market share for quite some time, succeeding in SSA’s consumer goods markets will be challenging. The key for retailers is to assess the various challenges against the market opportunities. Companies will have to be agile to respond to sudden industry changes, at the same time flexible in tailoring their strategies as per needs of the evolving market.
1) African Development Bank in 2011 estimated middle-class population in SSA to be over 300 million and defined “middle-class” as individuals earning between US$4 and US$20 a day. Standard Chartered Bank in its 2014 report projected the middle class in 11 major SSA economies to be around 15 million and estimated this figure to surpass 40 million by 2030. Standard Chartered Bank defined “middle class” as those earning between US$8,500 and US$42,000 a year.
2) Coca-Cola designed an innovative distribution model for African markets where bottlers deliver directly to distribution centers, who in turn deliver to retailers. This resulted in win-win situation for all as everybody in the supply chain ecosystem earns profit. Shoprite Group’s growth is heavily linked to its central distribution model that helped the firm to improve customer services and ensure smooth supply across the region.
In May 2013, in our article ‘Africa is Ready For You. Are You Ready For Africa?‘, we also discussed six aspects that companies must consider when planning their Africa strategy and offerings.