Africa produces many products that are in high demand in the rest of the world. Intra-African trade also offers strong potential, buoyed by the promise of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Dr Harnet Bokrezion is bullish about the opportunities for entrepreneurs to buy and sell products sourced in Africa. She has developed a training programme that teaches participants how to start a business by importing and selling African products in the global market. How we made it in Africa recently spoke to Dr Harnet to learn why importing from Africa could be a lucrative business opportunity.
You are enthusiastic about the potential to import African products into markets such as the US and Europe. For which products do you see the most demand?
Oh yes, African products are the future, especially food and other agribusiness items. Let me give you a little context before I share some of the best products to import. We all have to eat, every single day. But on top of that, consumers in the West are looking increasingly for products that are natural, organic, ethically sourced, impactful and that have an authentic story to tell. Africa can deliver all of that – and for the first time, I believe, African markets have a competitive advantage in this regard.
With Covid-19, we also see a new global shift in international supply chains emerging. A lot of buyers are looking for alternative suppliers, because they want to depend less on China or because they seek to diversify.
One of Africa’s leading business moguls, Strive Masiyiwa, recently said that food production and trade in Africa is the world‘s next billion-dollar market.
There is a wide range of products that Africa offers, which the world market wants. Of course, you have commodities such as coffee, tea, cocoa or you can ship rice from one African country to another with great margins.
But some of the products that are clearly trending are closely related to health and we saw that trend rise rapidly since the pandemic. We have superfoods such as moringa powder, baobab powder or chia seeds, for example. Nuts and dried fruits are also very high in demand. We further see a fast-growing market for natural skincare products such as shea butter, moringa oil or coconut oil.
Can you highlight one of your clients who has built a successful business by buying products in Africa and selling them in the West?
Let me share the story of Ateh Atabong. He has started his import business in Norway. He has been in employment in the pharmaceutical industry for many years but was keen to start his own business and he longed to contribute towards Africa’s development.
Ateh started with our online Importing from Africa programme two years ago with no prior experience nor any major capital injection. After he ordered some samples, he decided to not act as an agent or a distributor – business models we both help you set up – but to start his very own brand of natural health and skincare products.
Today, Ateh is the proud founder of Sawa, featuring products in over 20 retail outlets in Norway and now in Sweden. His success story was so significant, we made him a trainer in our online programme where he teaches our other importers how to get a successful business off the ground.
We also get in touch with our suppliers in Africa, and are always over the moon when we hear that someone ordered samples and now moved on to a container load. This is when we know we have created win-win situations for Africa.
What are some of the common mistakes people make when establishing an African import business?
Wanting to sell a whole range of products from the get-go. The key is to start with a single product that has high demand wherever you are based. Get to know the product, logistics and market inside out. Focus is everything in business. Once you have positioned yourself successfully in the market and your cash flow is good, you can add a second product in that category to diversify your offering and reduce your risk.
The other big challenge we see with our new importers is that they make a couple of phone calls or write a few emails and think they should be in business. If it was that easy, everyone would leave their jobs today. Business is about focus, consistency, and taking concrete steps towards a bigger goal even if you did not hear back from a prospect. Contact 30 or 50 potential buyers and you will most certainly get great momentum. This is what it takes to reap the rewards.
How much capital do you need to start a business importing products from Africa?
You can start from as little as $100 to $200. This serves to buy samples. Some of the samples are already available from distributors in the US or the EU, which makes it even cheaper. Then you need a laptop and a phone and start calling, knocking doors of hotels, retailers, or coffee shops in your city. You can also sell to well-established traders and distributors, which works well for intra-African trade.
We teach you how to sell to businesses rather than end-consumers, as you can grow your importing business much faster that way. This is the agent model, which has the lowest hurdles in regards to getting started. You do not need to purchase the goods yourself and you do not hold inventory (only samples). Hence you do not need to worry about a warehouse or logistics. All you do is connect the seller in Africa, which we have already vetted for you, and the buyers in your city. You act like a broker and get a commission when a deal is successful. The good news is that the buyer will re-order once the shelves are empty … and each time you earn a commission. Once you have established a buyer portfolio, the repeat buying is what turns this almost into a passive income stream for you.
But we also have importers who love hands-on involvement. If that is you, we teach you how to become a distributor or how to start your own brand.
If you want to join us, you can access our Importing from Africa programme online with a couple of clicks. We look forward to training and supporting you. We even offer free live training sessions monthly on Zoom, which we added as a bonus to help you succeed. Remember, this is an African business model for the future with massive impact and it is pandemic proof.
You can join our Africa-Business-In-A-Box: Importing from Africa programme right now.