For more than a decade, the race among grocery retailers to establish and grow their store footprints across Africa has been ongoing. Most casual observers know about Shoprite – which has stores in 14 countries, and Walmart and Casino, which are each in 13 countries. But there are actually four distinct axes of international supermarket expansion: from Southern Africa, France, the Middle East and Kenya.
The Southern African-led expansion is the best known and includes Shoprite, Walmart (Massmart/Game), Spar Group, Pick n Pay as well as Choppies. The francophone-led expansion is rapidly hotting up, and although French retailers have an established presence in North Africa the new wave of growth being led by Casino, Carrefour, Système U and Auchan is mainly focused on francophone West and Central Africa.
We are also seeing renewed interest from Middle Eastern retailers: Turkish hard discounter Bim has launched more than 100 stores in Egypt alone since 2013 and has built more than 250 stores in Morocco. Meanwhile Majid Al Futtaim has extended its partnership with Carrefour into Egypt and Kenya and is looking at more East African markets.
Finally, Kenya-based retailer Nakumatt is spearheading entry into the rest of East Africa. The strength of Kenyan retailers has already forced Shoprite into a strategic exit from East Africa and could derail ambitious expansion plans by both Carrefour and Walmart.
In 80% of grocery retail markets in Africa, the process of modernisation and retail consolidation is underway. However, the process of transformation of grocery retailing into recognisable, modern and sizeable supermarket chains has occurred in fewer than 10 countries so far.
So most markets are grocery retail battlegrounds, with domestic and/or international supermarket chains actively seeking to expand the reach of their store networks and penetration among consumers to fight for market share. That process is challenging, costly, resource-intensive, slow and risky.
Retailers face issues such as establishing and maintaining a supply chain, managing risks such as exchange rate transfer or regulatory gaps, and working with limited and often inconsistent data on consumers.
Trendtype has identified 10 key grocery retail battlegrounds where strong market attractiveness indicators and an increase in grocery retailer expansion activity are converging. The most intense of these battlegrounds are Nigeria, Kenya and, perhaps surprisingly, Ghana.
Ghana lacks the longer term growth potential of much larger markets (as does Senegal, another of our key grocery retail battlegrounds) but offers a quicker route to market entry and consumer penetration than many other West African retail markets.
In this phase of retailer expansion, we expect to see ease of access becoming a more important attraction for investors as they gain more experience of market entry in Africa.
Ben Longman is managing director of African market intelligence company Trendtype.