Africa the new Mecca for luxury brands

For a long time, interest in the global luxury market has been confined to Asia; after all, the region is set to account for over half of the luxury goods market in the next decade, according one estimation. But, as Africans become wealthier, leading luxury brands are starting to eye the continent. So which labels […]


For a long time, interest in the global luxury market has been confined to Asia; after all, the region is set to account for over half of the luxury goods market in the next decade, according one estimation. But, as Africans become wealthier, leading luxury brands are starting to eye the continent. So which labels are set to be trailblazers and what are the challenges ahead? Report by Sherelle Jacobs.

Africa’s wealthy class is growing. In 2012 the region’s segment of high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) grew by 9.9%, the second-highest growth rate in the world after North America, and above the global average growth rate of 9.2%, according to the latest World Wealth Report by the consulting firm Capgemini.

During the same period, the growth rate for African HNWI wealth increased 11.5% to $1.3 trillion, 1.5% above the global average. The number of billionaires in Africa could grow 117% over the next decade, the second-fastest regional rate of growth in the world after Asia.

The number of millionaires in Africa is also growing. Johannesburg is now home to 23,400 dollar millionaires, according to a report by UK-based New World Wealth, a UK-based information provider on the wealth sector in Africa.
Lagos hosts almost 10,000 dollar millionaires, Cape Town around 9,000. The number of dollar millionaires in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is expected to spike 62% to over 8,000 dollar millionaires.

Ledbury Research also estimates that the continent has 280,000 millionaires, or 1.6% of the world total. Although the figure is modest in comparison with elsewhere (for example, China, which has 1.6m  millionaires) Ledbury Research estimates that by 2017 that number will double to 645,000, or 2.6% of the global figure.

According to Euromonitor International data, the wealthiest class in African countries is set to grow significantly. For example, Kenya’s Social Class A is projected to grow 28% from 2011 to 2020, one of the highest forecasts in the world; in China, for example, the Social Class A is only set to grow 4% to 2020. Meanwhile, the total number of people comprising Social Classes A and B in Nigeria will be 25m by 2020 according to Euromonitor, 23% more than the UK and Germany combined.

Africa’s youthful demographics also bode well for the future of the luxury market. Around 65% of Africa’s population is under 35 years old, according to the Youth Division of the African Union Commission. By 2020, three out of four people will have an average age of 20. Ten million young Africans currently come into the labour pool for the first time every year.

“Africa is a long way behind both emerging Asia and Latin America in terms of the size of its middle class, but the combination of rapidly growing economies and youthful populations augers well for the next  10 years (and beyond),” says Fflur Roberts, head of Luxury at Euromonitor International.

“Equally, a recent spate of oil and gas discoveries – and the high probability of more to come, for example, in Ghana (oil) and in Tanzania (gas) – could provide a get-rich-quick spawning ground for a new generation of high-net-worth individuals,” Roberts adds.

African twist to American dream
The development of an intriguing and unique luxury culture also underlies much of the growth. For example, although Nigeria’s “growing bling-fuelled consumption culture, driven mainly by men and characterised by a hunger for luxury brands that are big on logos and even bigger on prestige credentials” is “fairly typical of any fledgling luxury goods market”, according to Roberts, other distinctly African characteristics are shaping attitudes to luxury, which could turn out to be powerful long-term forces.

“What is arguably different in Nigeria to other emerging markets is the pervasive sense of opportunity, even among the poor. It is an African twist on the American dream. People from low-income backgrounds [in Lagos, especially] believe their time will come – and in part this is down to a new offshoot of Christian religion, preaching financial prosperity.”

Luxury firms from a number of sectors are making inroads in Africa as a result of all of these developments on the wealth front. In the fashion stakes, Italian menswear company Ermenegildo Zegna opened a store in Lagos in April. The label is considering opening stores in Mozambique and Angola too.

Meanwhile, Hugo Boss opened a new flagship store in the recently developed Palms Mall in Nigeria in February. Prada is also opening a store in Angola later this year and may also be set to enter Nigeria next year. The luxury watch market is another area where activity has been exciting. The main trailblazer is high-end watch brand Cartier, known for the impressive global reach of its product range; it is distributing its luxury goods in several African countries, a trend that is only likely to increase as Africa grows more wealthy.

There is also movement in the cosmetics sector. High-end make-up brand MAC, which has a reputation for entering emerging markets before other luxury brands, is also proving keen on Africa; in February the firm opened a store in Lagos. It plans to open an outlet in Zambia in December and another in Botswana in January 2014. South Africa’s luxury cosmetics industry also grew impressively with retail spending having a compound annual growth rate of 15% between 2006 and 2011. It was worth $773m by 2011.

Luxury alcohol is another sector in which there has been a lot of activity. The market pulling in the most interest is Nigeria. The country is now the second-fastest growing market in the world for Champagne. In 2012, Champagne consumption in Nigeria was worth $59m and it could reach $105m, or 1.1m litres, by 2017.

New brands are also entering the market. For example, Nigerian business mogul Jide Adenuga has recently introduced Champagne label Montaudon into the Nigerian market. Meanwhile, whisky has become South Africa’s fastest-growing liquor in sales terms, with premium and super premium brands constituting 87% of all units sold. Nigeria’s cognac market is now bigger than Canada’s and the country is in the top 10 largest markets for Hennessy cognac.
Leading distillery companies offering a strong line of luxury products, like Diageo, have also been performing particularly well. For the year ended 30th June 2013, the firm’s reported net sales in South Africa grew 5%. In East Africa, the figure was 13%, in Nigeria 6%.

Rival Pernod Ricard has also been trying to position itself in Africa. In the first half of this year, it experienced 12% growth in Africa. Last year it opened commercial units in a host of African countries, including Angola, Ghana and Kenya. In April, a distribution agreement between Pernod Ricard Nigeria and the CFAO Group in Nigeria came into action, which covers Pernod Ricard’s whole portfolio but the Martell, Absolut and Chivas Regal brands in particular.
There has also been a lot of movement in the premium car market recently. Last spring, German car manufacturer Porsche opened a new luxury showroom in Nigeria’s most exclusive neighbourhood, Victoria Island. It hopes to sell roughly 300 units every year. It also recently opened a new dealership in the similarly affluent capital of Angola, Luanda.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz South Africa has been enjoying steady progress in Africa. “Most of the luxury car markets in Africa are small markets, but have been very stable over the past years, such as in Nigeria,” says Mareike Jahnle, a spokesperson for Daimler. Although South Africa remains the firm’s biggest market, “Botswana and Namibia have been very stable and continue to grow in line with our expectations. We do not have Mercedes-Benz passenger cars presence in Swaziland and Lesotho currently, however this may be a consideration in the future,” says Jahnle. Other car brands have also been trying to target Africa’s market, such as Range Rover; it has been pushing its Evoque model, which has special appeal for the younger market. Jaguar, owned by India’s Tata Motors, is acquiring a dedicated following in several African countries. The car’s sleek, muscular lines and its promise of top-level performance is rapidly making it a very desirable object.

Poor infrastructure gets in the way
But Africa’s luxury market still has some way to go. Big luxury brands, especially in the fashion sector, are yet to expand outside of South Africa. Last year, Francesco Trapani, chief executive of the jewellery and watches division at LVMH, said that, for the company, Africa was “still a very, very small market”.

Guillaume de Seynes, managing director of French luxury group Hermès International also said that Africa could be “a new frontier” but for the seventh generation.

As the company is currently in its sixth family generation, the comment implies that the firm does not envisage pursuing an Africa strategy in the immediate future. “We have not yet found any opportunities to make business in Africa or to open a store in Africa. We’ve looked at Egypt, Morocco, South Africa,” said de Seynes. “These markets are maybe not yet mature enough to welcome a Hermès store.”

Fashion labels clearly see Africa as a risky venture. Even those that have entered the market first, like Zegna, have done so using a franchise model, making use of local knowledge on the ground.

Some even believe that the eventual expansion of such brands into Africa in the long term may not be guaranteed, partly due to the growing importance of online shopping. “To some extent, as the world has become increasingly interconnected, through faster shipping and connectivity increasing daily with the internet, sometimes having a virtual presence is enough,” says Roberts. “As the internet becomes ever more accessible, luxury brands can track where their brands are becoming popular by using web analytics software.”

The tradition of shopping abroad amongst the African elite may also prove a disincentive for luxury retailers. Many Africans travel to New York or European cities such as Paris and London to shop for designer items. Nigerians are now the fourth-biggest foreign spenders in the UK and spend an average of £500 in every high-end shop they frequent. A major reason which is likely to be holding such brands back is the region’s underdeveloped real estate infrastructure. In particular, this amounts to a lack of identifiably high-end shopping districts and shopping malls outside of South Africa. Poor access to equity financing due to the high risks involved in large-scale property development in African countries is a big challenge getting in the way of building more luxury shopping malls.

Basic infrastructure challenges, like electricity shortages, are also an issue. However, there have been rumblings of progress. In 2006, Nigeria opened a new luxury shopping centre, The Palms, a 45,000 square metre space in Lekki peninsula. In 2008, the Accra Mall opened in Ghana, the country’s first high-end large-scale shopping space. Kenya is awaiting the opening of Garden City, a new 130,000 square metre shopping space in Nairobi, which will be the largest in East Africa and is due to open in mid 2014.

In the luxury car sector, investment in growth will not be without its challenges. “Porsche knows, for example, that Nigeria’s roads are so badly maintained that anyone buying one of its sports cars is unlikely to be able to drive it very fast, or even very far,” says Roberts. “For the moment, wealthy Nigerians are buying Porsche not for performance but as a badge of status.”

Jahnle at Daimler points to another issue: “Successful future expansion on such a diverse continent would require a greater level of coordination from a governments in terms of regulatory and legal policies, political stability and financial systems. Other challenges surely are logistics and infrastructure,” she says.

“A globally competitive local supplier base is also critical to overall success of an expansion business model for Africa,” Jahnle adds.  Yet, despite such sticking points, Africa’s ‘time’ in terms of the luxury market seems to be fast approaching. Current developments, in a way, echo the history of the luxury market in China.

For example, Zegna was the first luxury menswear brand to open a fully-owned store in mainland China in 1991, a move which was questioned by many at the time. If the parallels with China follow through, then the race to lure Africa’s rising affluent class may not be far off.

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