Interview: Miya founder reveals strategy for selling water in Senegal

Miya sells 19-litre reusable water bottles.

Although over 80% of the Senegalese population has basic access to water services, a considerably smaller number can access safe water. Contaminated water persistently contributes to the spread of diseases.

Established in 2019, Miya is a Senegal-based water company that aims to provide a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to the predominant brands in the West African nation. In this interview, Miya’s founder, French businessman Pierre-André Térisse, who formerly headed Danone in Africa, provides insights into the company’s operations.

* The answers have been slightly edited for clarity.

Discuss the approach Miya has taken to increase its customer base and gain market share in the face of competition from larger companies with bigger marketing budgets?

Our goal at Miya is to give access to high quality water. From the very beginning, our focus has been on setting the lowest possible prices without compromising our business model, as we need to generate profits. By opting for large reusable bottles, we manage to keep our costs low, enabling us to sell 19-litre containers at 1,200 CFA (US$1.97). This is in comparison to the main market offering of a 10-litre disposable bottle at 1,000 CFA. Our pricing presents a 35% saving for the consumer, making our product inherently appealing.

To make our water widely available, we’ve established a direct distribution network, which currently supplies over 2,000 stores in the greater Dakar region and continues to expand. Although our marketing efforts have been limited to door-to-door activation so far, we’re considering the use of more prominent communication channels as we grow.

In an earlier discussion, it was mentioned that Miya operates decentralised production facilities across various locations in Dakar. How has this approach influenced the company’s business operations?

Initially, we established small-scale plants and stores in various areas of Dakar, including Médina, Grand Yoff and Niary Tally. However, we realised this approach was unsustainable for two reasons. First, maintaining high-quality standards required scaling up to absorb the associated costs. Second, the convenience of our 19-litre water dispensers relies on extensive distribution, which could only be achieved through existing shops.

As a result, we invested in a modern facility in Thies and developed a distribution fleet comprising small trucks and tricycles. We believe this approach strikes the optimal balance between affordability, high quality and wide distribution to effectively compete in the market.

Could you elaborate on the potential growth opportunities and prospects for the company?

As Miya continues to grow and reach breakeven in Dakar, we are exploring an even more affordable solution: a water ATM named Odissi. This solution offers 10 litres of bulk water for just 300 CFA, half the cost per litre of the Miya’s product and 30% of the price of the competition’s popular 10-litre option. Similar offerings already exist in various areas of Dakar but we believe this presents a significant opportunity to serve additional customers that Miya can reach, thanks to our established network and teams. These water ATMs would be a breakthrough in terms of access to high quality drinking water for mass market consumers.

The company's new Odissi water ATMs.

The company’s new Odissi water ATMs.

With Miya and Odissi, we’re confident that we have two offerings capable of success in numerous cities across sub-Saharan Africa, as both address key regional issues: access to clean water and plastic waste reduction. Consequently, we are considering expanding our presence to other cities in the coming years.