Africa: The Final Gold Rush For Consumer Products Companies?

Courtesy of The Financial Times, a report on the rising power of consumers in Africa.  As the article notes:

“..A new push into Africa is under way. Inspired by improved political and currency stability, economic growth and a burgeoning middle class, consumer products groups are busily drawing up plans for a continent once regarded as impenetrable.

“Africa is flavour of the day. People who have a vision of it say it’s like China 20 years ago and if you don’t get in now, you’ll regret it,” says one banker. “The pace of dialogue we have had on the subject has gone up enormously.”

The International Monetary Fund projects growth of 4.75 per cent this year in sub-Saharan Africa and demographically, the continent is on a roll; in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, half the population is under 20. An increasing number of these are middle class or, in the words of consultancy AT Kearney, “consumer class”.

The continent has the dual advantages of being underpenetrated and underserved, say those operating there. For instance, beer consumption is 10 litres per capita in Nigeria – down from a peak of 18 litres – and just half that in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That compares with 30 in China. A survey by AT Kearney found that eight out of nine west African subsidiaries of global consumer goods companies registered faster revenue growth than their parent companies, and on average twice the compound annual growth rate.

These factors have already drawn in a number of operators, particularly brewers. SABMiller, originally from South Africa, derives one-third of its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation from the continent.

Diageo, whose East African Breweries subsidiary last month closed the acquisition of a Tanzanian brewer, sells more Guinness in Nigeria than it does in Ireland.

With Walmart’s proposed tie-up with South Africa’s Massmart more manufacturers will want to follow the world’s biggest retailer by sales as they reckon this will help distribution of consumer products.

“You could characterise it as the final gold rush for the large consumer products companies of the world, because where are they going to go after Africa?” asks David Murray, global consumer products transactions leader at Ernst & Young.

“There’s nowhere left.” But pitfalls remain: specifically, poor infrastructure and political volatility. For companies whose business relies on getting their products into shops, bars and homes, inefficient harbours and dirt-track roads present the biggest obstacle. This makes distribution, the backbone of any consumer products business, a logistical nightmare – encouraging innovative methods such as the use of boys on scooters or Avon lady-style door-to-door sales in villages.

Another problem is the cost of building plants and factories with imported steel and cement. On average, a brewery producing 500,000 hectolitres of beer costs $100 per hectolitre to build in Africa. That is twice as much as India, four times that of China and substantially more than in Europe.

Electricity supply is erratic, prompting companies to build their own generators to ensure constant power. This even affects advertising strategies at PZ Cussons, the household and personal care group that derives the bulk of its revenues from Nigeria. “In Nigeria electricity doesn’t always run, so half the time you are paying for advertising that no one will see,” says Alex Kanellis, chief executive.

African companies and their products often look and taste different from those in the rest of the world. While a bottle of Heineken will taste just as it does in Amsterdam, local brews and foodstuffs include ingredients such as cassava and sorghum.

Nestlé, the world’s biggest food producer, is increasing its local sourcing rapidly as it builds up in the region. The potato in its popular Maggi stock cubes is replaced with cassava and boosted with iodised salt, helping fuel annual sales of about 19bn cubes.

“We started with 14 [local] farmers in a village. Today we have over 1,000 farmers supplying cassava of the right quality,” says Fritz van Dijk, who is in charge of emerging markets at the Swiss food group. It is now looking to use local onions too.

Amid the host of gripes – higher excise taxes that erode profitability, say, or huge informal markets (moonshine is reckoned to be four times as big as formal alcohol in volume terms) – the march into Africa is unlikely to abate.

Mr Kanellis of PZ Cussons adds: “Growing Asia is difficult because you have everyone competing. In Africa the Japanese, apart from the car companies, are not really there. It’s mainly just the Indians, Chinese and the multinationals that have been there for ages.”

Some of these are aggressively buying up businesses and grabbing market share. Kolkata-based Emami, for example, bought a manufacturing personal care business in Egypt and is now understood to be eyeing a brand. The African terrain looks set to get more competitive.”

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