Interview: South African coffee chain set to enter Côte d’Ivoire; sees potential in Nigeria (Part 2)

South African coffee chain Vida e Caffè is set to open its doors in Côte d’Ivoire.

Vida e Caffè, a coffee chain founded in South Africa in 2001, has in recent years grown its presence in the rest of the continent through outlets in Ghana, Mauritius and Zambia. In Part Two of our interview with Frank van Asperen, general manager for Vida e Caffè’s international business, he discusses the chain’s expansion to Côte d’Ivoire and shares his thoughts on the Nigerian market. (Part One: Selling coffee in Ghana and Zambia: South African chain Vida e Caffè discusses international growth)

Vida e Caffè is expanding to Côte d’Ivoire. What opportunities do you see in the Ivorian market?

In May 2021, our partner in Ghana secured $2.9 million from AfricInvest Private Credit to support further expansion in Ghana and extend the company‘s footprint to Côte d’Ivoire. We hope to soon open our first Vida flagship outlet in Abidjan.

We think the market has great potential as it is one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies with a high growth rate and low inflation, a significant population and reasonable spending power.

As a former French colony, the coffee culture was established in the country a long time ago via the opening of its first coffee shop in 1960 (Patisserie Abidjanaise). The consumers in Côte d’Ivoire have higher expectations than in Ghana and are into premium delicatessen consumed in larger sit-down format stores.

In Côte d’Ivoire, we won’t have the first-mover advantage to the extent we enjoyed in Ghana and South Africa. There are already some strong premium competitors in the market. We do, however, bring something unique.

You previously worked for Heineken in Nigeria. Is this a market you are considering for Vida?

Absolutely. Although the economy is a bit under pressure since the 2016 oil crisis, it is still the largest country in Africa in terms of population with more than 200 million, mostly young, people. The youth is hungry for a western lifestyle experience, including coffee shops, with this market still in the early phase of development.

Many quick-service restaurants have tried to enter Nigeria but not many have succeeded. One of the major challenges is the operating expenses, driven by high rentals and pricey solutions to frequent electricity cuts.

If we can find the right partner to manage these costs efficiently, we are definitely interested in placing the Vida e Caffè flag in the Nigerian market.

A Vida e Caffè outlet in Mauritius.

How does the leasing environment in West Africa differ from South Africa?

Leasing in Ghana is reasonable while Côte d’Ivoire is quite expensive. There is a significant ‘key money’ element (entry deposits) to be paid for high street and mall locations.

Give us an overview of the competitive environment in the African countries, excluding South Africa, where Vida has a presence.

In Mauritius, we are facing serious competition behind a premium international player from Paris, named Paul, and some local premium competitors like Artisan and Café Lux. We always try to stay ahead of them with our shop designs (we have revamped our top two stores), menu innovations and Vida Vibe. In Ghana, the competition is limited to Second Cup from Canada and some local shops. Our competition in Zambia is mostly M&B from South Africa and some local shops.

Our key differentiator from the numerous competitors in South Africa and abroad is our renowned Vida Vibe. The Vida Vibe is inspired by the streets café of Portugal, infused with the infectious energy of the people of Africa and making our consumers feeling at home in our stores.

What are some of the franchising lessons you’ve learnt?

Outside of South Africa, we follow a franchise model and have learnt several lessons along the way. The most crucial is to choose the right countries and, within those countries, to choose the right partner with quick-service restaurant experience. This gives us a head start as the partner knows how to operate a brand like ours. Secondly, the partner should have the capability and financial means to create a scalable footprint of multiple Vida stores across the country.

Vida e Caffè general manager of international business Frank van Asperen’s contact information

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