The story of how Julien Achcar built Afriwara, a confectionery and biscuit enterprise in West Africa.
Julien Achcar was raised in Mali, where his father and uncles were notable businessmen. They managed an array of enterprises, including a confectionery producing candies, a pasta factory, a flour mill, and a bottling company. Julien spent his formative years observing his father at work, gradually absorbing the nuances of business.
He left Mali to pursue further studies in France. Yet, after graduating in 2003, he was summoned back to join the family business. Under his uncle’s guidance, he took a position in the candy factory. “This is where I learned the business. My uncle taught me … the formulas, which machines to invest in, how you focus on developing new products,” Julien recalls. He became well-versed in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, as well as in marketing and logistics.
After five years, Julien again relocated to France where he secured a position with logistics company Bolloré. As his job took him across various African countries, he continually felt the pull to once again engage in business on the continent.
While working at Bolloré, Julien co-founded Comptoir Export de Matières Premieres (CEMP), an FMCG ingredient manufacturer, with two university friends in 2007. Initially, Julien played an advisory role, but he joined the company full-time in 2010. CEMP supplies food additives, starches, sweeteners, fats and oils, agricultural products, dairy, plastics, resins, and chemicals to clients in more than 60 countries worldwide.
By the time Julien came onboard, CEMP had established a significant client base in Africa. In late 2010, one such client, SNCV – a candy and sweets manufacturer in Côte d’Ivoire – was seeking a buyer. Its owner, nearing 80, lacked a successor. Responding to the opportunity, Julien founded Afriwara Group and acquired a majority stake in SNCV.
At the time SNCV was producing national favourites such as Pecto sweets. With his history and experience in candy manufacturing, Julien expanded the production to include lollipops, chewing gums, biscuits and other snacks.
Four years later, in 2014, Afriwara made its second significant investment in Africa when another CEMP client, Ghana-based sweet and gum manufacturer Royal Sweets, sold it a stake in the business.
With its shareholding in SNCV and Royal Sweets, Afriwara had a solid manufacturing footprint in Africa. However, Julien’s ambition was to secure funding to make both companies fully owned subsidiaries. This vision materialised in 2017 when private equity firm Amethis invested in Afriwara. Its investment furnished the necessary capital for Afriwara to purchase the remaining stakes in the companies and institute group-wide operating systems, processes, and financial controls, setting the stage for future growth.
A key growth catalyst came with the group’s appointment of Hussein Izzat Fawaz as the general manager for both SNCV and Royal Sweets in 2021. Julien first met Hussein in 2015 when he served as the general manager for OK Foods in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Production and distribution
Currently, the group has a management team of seven, complemented by 200 direct employees in Côte d’Ivoire and 90 in Ghana. Its Abidjan factory produces approximately 50 tonnes daily, encompassing five candy lines, three gum lines, and two biscuit lines. Over in Ghana, the facility features three candy lines and two traditional gum lines, with the introduction of a coated gum line on the horizon.
Afriwara collaborates with large distribution companies in Côte d’Ivoire that procure its products and then supply them to retail clients. Additionally, it serves the traditional market.
In Ghana, its subsidiary, Royal Sweets, owns a fleet of trucks to transport products directly to retail companies, and it partners with a logistics company for additional distribution.
“The goal is to make Afriwara a pan-African group; a confectionery and biscuit leader in our markets,” says Hussein.
With its current operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the group already holds a strategic position in the West African region. From Côte d’Ivoire, it can easily reach markets in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Meanwhile, from Ghana, it can access Togo and Benin. With these markets as the target, Afriwara is adding equipment to launch new products.
The first introduction will be hard candies and lollipops with a liquid centre, set for production by SNCV before year’s end. This will make it the first factory in West Africa to offer these candies, notes Julien. Next is a savoyry biscuit infused with meat and chicken flavours. These biscuits will be priced affordably, catering to the lower income demographic seeking filling snacks. Over at Royal Sweets, the group is launching a coated gum line, poised to compete with the handful of other players on the continent that have the technology to manufacture this product. “We will be the only facility that can produce this in West Africa,” says Julien.
The group caters to consumers across all income brackets. “On the one hand, we know that the purchasing power in some countries is very low. But, at the same time, we don’t want to lose market share because someone else is investing in [the production of] high-quality products. We want to be everywhere,” Julien explains.
Afriwara was built through strategic acquisitions, a recipe Julien believes can be replicated in the future. Senegal is a possible next destination, he says. The company is investigating whether it wants to start a factory from scratch or acquire an existing production facility. “We would also like to move to Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa,” he adds.
Africa, however, is not the end of the road for Afriwara. Hussein just appointed a manager in a new department that is focusing on exports beyond the continent to Europe, Asia and North America.
“There is a big market, we are already talking to some big distributors in Europe, and I think there is an opportunity because we have a cheap, but high-quality product,” says Hussein.
Julien adds that growth can also come through co-packing contracts for European and Latin American brands that do not want the risk of building their own factories. “Very soon, we will be co-packing for two international companies.”
Afriwara contact information
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