Enough of being poor

In western Africa a new middle class is emerging. Their consumer behaviour is determining the demand for products – home-produced and imported goods, on the internet or at the village market. The people of Ivory Coast in particular are looking to the future with optimism.

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Models are presenting modern and affordable fashion-collections (c) Brot fü die Welt/Christoph Püschner

Marcellin Boguy

Marcellin Boguy is a journalist at Notre Voie in Ivory Coast. His specialist area is the life and culture of Ivory Coast.

It’s just before eight o’clock in the evening at the Cash Express supermarket checkout at one of the many shopping centres in the Ivorian business metropolis of Abidjan. The shopping trolleys are full and are mostly being pushed by women. When it comes to the question of who in the family does the shopping, Ivorians are traditionalists. When it comes to the question of what, they no longer are: noodles, wine, milk, butter, sausages, biscuits, soaps, shampoos – the country of origin of two thirds of the products is a country other than Ivory Coast.

 

You won’t find the traditional plantains or palm kernels, or the granulated cassava flour, attiéké, in the trolleys here. The mademoiselles and mesdames buy the staple foods at the traditional markets in the suburbs. What they all have in common is that they are members of the new Ivorian middle class, which is both traditional and modern – no longer poor and not yet wealthy; urban in lifestyle and yet tied to tradition and the consumption habits of their village.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
The city center of the Togolese capital Lome at dusk. (c) Christoph Püschner/Zeitenspiegel

The market research institute, Ipsos, and the consultancy firm, Bearing Point, estimate that the African middle classes will have tripled to 228 million people by 2040, according to a comprehensive study commissioned by the company, CFAO. This growing class of Africans will have money for consumption and new habits – but what habits? The continent’s development depends on this, too.

 

Ivory Coast had the most prominent middle class in western Africa until the economic crisis in the 1980s and the unrest following the elections in 2010 and 2011, during which 3,000 people were killed. The trend is stagnating. Today two million of the 23 million Ivorians are members of the middle class.

 

Young, well educated an urban

It's difficult to define the ‘African middle class’. According to a definition by the African Development Bank, people earning between four and twenty dollars a day are middle class. Socio-economic status influences consumption patterns. Middle class people do 65 per cent of their shopping in traditional markets, and the rest at the supermarket, with a strong preference for products from abroad.

 

The African Development Bank describes this middle class as ‘young, well qualified, urban and employed in relatively stable and well paid jobs’. No more than a quarter of their income goes into buying food – a similar consumption structure to that of Cameroon, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria, as well as other economies with a growing middle class, like India. The next most important items are accommodation, transport and education. 15 per cent of earnings are saved.

 

Between Tradition and ‘new Identity’

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
The new middle-class enjoys the traditional cuisine - just as occasional visits in Fast-Food-Restaurants. (c) Zeitenspiegel/Christoph Püschner

According to a study conducted by the French market research institute, Ipsos, the households that are defined as middle class are those with a monthly disposable income of 400 to 1,200 dollars. This middle class makes up 16 per cent of Africa’s population. A characteristic of the behaviour of these people is that they’ve moved on from worrying about surviving from day to day, and can even plan for the future – but they have to work hard for it. Some are employed; others are self-employed. Work in the formal sector is often supplemented by work in the informal sector. For example, Eric from Abidjan: ‘I work in the port as a machine technician – but I also run a small bakery on the side.’ 

 

It’s also important for them to give the children a sense of their own identity through food, especially at the weekends and on days of celebration. At the same time, though, middle class people are more and more interested in what they can find in the supermarkets

 

‘This middle class is not only found in the big cities, but also in smaller towns, extending almost into rural areas,’ says Florence de Bigault, Head of the Department of Consumer Research and Markets in Africa at Ipsos. ‘Middle class consumption patterns are very much hybrid. They still get their basic supplies, such as cereals, fish and meat, from traditional markets. On the one hand, they maintain close ties with the villages and still cook traditional dishes; and it’s also important for them to give the children a sense of their own identity through food, especially at the weekends and on days of celebration. At the same time, though, middle class people are more and more interested in what they can find in the supermarkets: milk products, cheese, baked goods, tinned foods, noodles. They shop in the supermarket especially for breakfast – always, though, with a keen eye on the price. Many of these products come from abroad. They claim to be healthy, but many of them are just treats, reinforcing social status by presenting an image of innovation and quality.’

 

The middle classes consume local processed foods, mostly in the form of juices, biscuits and pre-cooked cereals. ‘They’re considered to be fresher, and people want to support the local economy as well,’ says Florence de Bigault.

 

Along with the rise of the middle class, another phenomenon has become apparent – eating out. Especially in big towns and cities, parents and children have lunch more often in canteens and small restaurants, as there's no other option due to long journey times. At weekends, fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonald's are very popular in the big shopping centres. As Hubert Kéi, a businessman, puts it, ‘At lunchtimes everyone goes out and does their own thing, and then we invest our evenings in family life, with all of its tensions, between the boys or the husband, all wanting to watch the TV at the same time.’

 

Christoph Püschner/Zeitenspiegel
Beverages advertisement behind the bronze statue "Demba et Dupont" in the Senegalese capital Dakar, set up in 1923. (c) Zeitenspiegel/Christoph Püschner

Whenever anyone in Ivory Coast makes the leap from poverty to the middle class, their eating habits change, too: as well as the hands, a spoon or a fork is more likely to be used; and there are three mealtimes a day – something that poor families can't afford.

 

In particular, breakfast as an institution is a middle class phenomenon. ‘For me it’s an honour, having a meal with my family before everyone goes their own way,’ says Baudelaire Kouamé, a young bank employee in Abidjan. While breakfast in poor families consists of the previous evening’s leftovers, middle class breakfasts follow their own rationale, with cornflakes, milk, yoghurt, fruit and juice. There's even margarine now on Ivory Coast tables, as well as more and more bread and croissants, resulting in the frequent opening of new bakeries in Abidjan.

 

Internet trade and consumption in Ivory Coast

A study by Kantar TNS, the market research division of the British advertising giant, WPP, predicts ‘massive growth in the middle classes in the next ten years brought about by a dynamic business world and increasing purchasing power in Africa’. The study investigates the use of digital social networks on the continent, and identifies big differences compared to Europe or Asia. In Ivory Coast, for example, Facebook and WhatsApp have become real platforms for trade. Only 8 per cent of Ivorians who have an internet connection are not on Facebook.

Kantar has also conducted research into shopping habits on the continent. There is clearly a pride in Africa that gives local businesses an advantage over multinational companies. According to Kantar, this consideration is a factor in the buying decisions of 53 per cent of internet users.

 

‘100 per cent mobile’ is the company’s prediction

 

Shopping on the internet is set to increase enormously in the next few months and years. Jumia, a Nigerian company that operates the commercial and shipping platform of the same name on the internet, and has a presence in various African countries, expects sales via smartphones and tablets to dominate e-commerce. ‘100 per cent mobile’ is the company’s prediction.

 

Jumia has researched online buying behaviour in 15 African countries and has found that 47 per cent of customers’ transactions are conducted on their smartphone or tablet. In Ivory Coast 16 per cent of internet users use Jumia at least once a month – in absolute figures that’s 850,000 Ivorians, of which 42 per cent are women. This amounts to a 27 per cent increase in internet sales compared to 2015. This makes Ivory Coast the forerunner in western Africa. By contrast, the proportion of Jumia users in Ghana is only half – and it's even lower in Senegal.

 

Africa is a key component of companies’ strategies, because the middle classes are growing rapidly and driving consumption in the process

 

With the advent of the internet and a growing middle class, there’s a general optimism in Ivory Coast. 63 per cent of Ivorians surveyed by Kantar TNS say that they consider the future of their country to be ‘promising’. 81 per cent even think in terms of their own success. In Europe this figure is 14 per cent.

‘Africa is a key component of companies’ strategies, because the middle classes are growing rapidly and driving consumption in the process,’ says Ndeye Diagne, head of the Kantar TNS study, ‘Insights into French-speaking Africa’.

So it’s the middle classes that will be boosting consumption and determining trends in French-speaking Africa in the next ten years.

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