African Consumers Ignored By the West

Frank Braeken, the executive VP of Unilever in Africa, believes that Western companies have long underestimated Africa’s consumers. He believes that Western companies have failed to realize Africa’s potential as a diverse, multifaceted market and that African consumers have been, “underestimated, underserved, and underserviced.” He feels the West has maintained a patronizing and generic outlook about the opportunities available in Africa.

Unilever has been working in and with African communities for more than a century. They have a presence in 15 countries, employing thousands of African workers.  Yet, even Braeken acknowledges that Unilever struggled to utilize the diversity of consumers across the continent.

Unilever is just now beginning to vary their company policy and strategy, breaking Africa into several distinct chunks, such as East Africa, West Africa, and South Africa. They are working to make their products and distribution strategies relevant for the different types of consumers across the continent.

Nielsen recently released a survey about the types of consumers in African markets. The results indicate that instead of simply being viewed as a continent, Africa should be viewed as, “54 separate and distinct countries with a wide array of political, economic, geographic, cultural, and social features.” They have indicated that Western companies need to stop thinking of Africa as one single consumer.

Western markets would be smart to tap into the African market as it has been and is projected to continue growing in spending on consumer goods, telecoms, and banking. This growth sets Africa apart as an attractive new business proposition for Western companies.

While economic growth and increased knowledge of the prospect of Western companies investing in Africa is growing, there are still problems that Braeken warns need to be addressed. Africa, for the most part, lacks adequate infrastructure, good governance, and states free of corruption. However, Braeken believes that if Western states continue to talk about Africa and the real issues then not only will his company grow, but many other companies will as well.

– Caitlin Zusy 
Source: CNN
Photo: Bloomberg