If Africa’s traditional negative image is anything to go by, one would be excused for quickly dismissing products made on the continent as a no go area for most Western consumers. But young Westerners are increasingly relating to the continent, thanks in part to Social Media for breaking communication barriers.
In the UK alone, more than 60% of the 2000 consumers surveyed by YouGov on behalf of the Social Enterprise, Proudly Made in Africa, are either comfortable or very comfortable with buying finished products from Africa. About 70% of these consumers shop at the Big Four retailers Tesco (25%), Sainsburys (17%), Asda (17%) and Morrisons (11%). The rest of the consumers buy their groceries at large discount stores, with a few high-end shoppers.
Market research reveals that consumer attitudes towards African brands are generally positive, but more than 65% of the consumers still associate the brands with low quality. The consumers may buy African brands, but their behaviours seem to be predominantly driven by perceptions of Fairtrade and poverty alleviation. Those two drivers may explain why over 70% of the consumers expect to pay the same price or more for a chocolate bar made in Africa, as they would for a Cadburys’ or KitKat.
Interestingly perceptions such as ‘organic’ and ‘uniqueness’ are some of the factors that the surveyed consumers also use as reference points, but do not directly link to quality. However, within these findings, there are indications that consumers may be starting to shift their attitudes towards buying African products based on quality rather than sentiment.
Shifting perceptions for the European mass market
The findings of the market research imply that there is lot of market potential for African brands in Europe, but these brands might not be committing enough investment in promoting their competitiveness. Marketers’ focus ought to be on leveraging quality perceptions among mass consumers.
Some African-brands in the wine and beverages sectors have succeeded based on their competitiveness. Some marketers in these sectors have targeted niche segments of customers who seek the so-called ‘exotic, ethical and organic’ brands. But niche segments are strategic for initial market entrance, and often not viable enough to guarantee sustainable growth for most African brands.
Growth will be driven by long-term investment in building relationships between Western consumers and African brands. Apart from the traditional teas and coffees for Europe, Africa produces some of the world’s best cotton and leather goods. These can easily go mass market if branded competitively for increasingly Africa-friendly European consumers.
Brand building is a costly and time-consuming project demanding patience, resilience and courage. The whole exercise starts with constructing a strong foundation for the future, laying one block at a time, monitoring and responding to reaction.
Thinking outside the box is vital for success, but an organisation might wonder how to do that, and take an African brand into a mass European market given all the constraints and prejudices around the continent. However, an answer to that is observed in Proudly Made in Africa’s approach.
For nearly a decade, Proudly Made in Africa has been acting as a mediator nurturing business relationships between European and Africa retailers, providing these partners with market intelligence, and developing the capacity of African SMEs to meet EU trade regulations.
Beyond that, Proudly Made in Africa has been mass educating potential consumers and future business practitioners through a Fellowship in Business and Development based at the University College Dublin.
Employing a Proudly Made in Africa Fellow who works closely with lecturers across Ireland, the Social Enterprise has been able to reach approximately 10.000 Business students in 13 Colleges during the last 4 years. More than a third of those students now consider African brands to be at least as competitive as European brands.
Therefore, the perceived competitiveness of African brands is an issue of grassroots education and brand building, and more investment in marketing activities that will boost the competitiveness of African brands in the eye of the now very open-minded European consumer.
By Penelope Muzanenhamo
The author is a Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business and Development at UCD College of Business, Ireland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was first published by the author on her LinkedIn profile.