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As Local Consumption Grows, West African Tea Producers Have the Edge

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Howard Telford Bio

In terms of percentage growth experienced in 2015, Cameroon is one of the standout markets for retail hot tea and a top three performer in terms of five-year compounded annual volume growth in Euromonitor International’s latest research edition. While per capita consumption is still very small in a global context, Cameroon is an interesting market of the future for hot drinks brand owners to consider and an instructive example of tea development in the region.

Do dizzying growth rates represent an immediate, addressable opportunity for big tea brands? The evidence is mixed. While consumers in Cameroon are driving forward sales of European tea and coffee brands, operators have encountered significant challenges in profitably marketing their mega-brands in West Africa. The largest tea brand in Cameroon is also one of the largest local growers and producers, not a multinational. For the time being, local players may be in the best position to capitalise over the short term as major tea (and coffee) brands grow share through the development of modern retail (one supermarket at a time) and targeted adjustments to their retailing strategy.

Why is Cameroon consuming more tea?

Over 2015 to 2020, retail tea is projected to grow by 70% in Cameroon. The primary driver of tea growth and wider consumer packaged goods development is simply economic growth, as more households enter the consumer class for the first time. Real GDP is expected to rise by 5.4% in 2016 with private consumption benefiting.

The bright picture for tea is a little surprising, because Cameroon is a coffee dominant market at present. Coffee as a retail beverage option was preferred to hot tea by a ratio of 5:1 in terms of brewed volume in 2015. This may be a function of the fact that coffee is one of the principal crops in the largely agricultural economy. Significant tea production in Cameroon did not begin until the 1960s. The presence of French supermarket chains and European hot drinks brands (Nescafé leads) may also contribute to coffee’s head start in Cameroon’s developing consumer economy.

Tea and coffee in Cameroon: Complimentary growth

tea and coffee growth in cameroon

Source: Euromonitor International

So why is tea now forecast to grow twice as fast as coffee? While a booming economy should lift both categories, coffee has developed a less positive health image due to its high caffeine content. Tea is attractive to an urban, relatively affluent consumer that is more aware of health and wellness decisions and may seek the therapeutic properties of certain teas. Tea products for all kinds of health conditions – ranging from cardiovascular disease to hypertension - are available on retailers’ shelves. Cleansing and slimming teas are expected to be a significant trend over the forecast period. In addition to health and functionality, sweet aromatic infusions have also become very popular. Growth within these categories can be attributed to quality, taste and – thanks to rising incomes - affordability.

Is there real opportunity here for global tea brands?

Double-digit rates of growth for African hot drinks are not necessarily indicative of short-term growth potential for multinational brands. As reported by the Financial Times in June 2015, Nestlé – producer of the global giant Nescafé - cut 15% of its African workforce and scaled back operations across 21 African markets last year, citing overly optimistic short-term forecasts about the African consumer economy as one factor influencing the decision. Representatives from the coffee and packaged food giant attributed the underperformance of the company in the region to an undeveloped and insecure middle class, in addition to an expensive business environment for transport.

Nescafé is the strongest European brand in African hot drinks, so the challenges of Nestlé in the region are revealing. A difficult operating environment, insecure consumer class and logistical obstacles place roadblocks to foreign growth in Cameroon and other growing African markets. Local companies are at least partially filling the void. Cameroon Tea Estate (CTE Tea) is the leading grower and distributor of black tea in Cameroon and targets both low- and high-end consumers. The company intends to quadruple production by 2017, taking advantage of preferential access to regional free trade agreements to sell its products in neighbouring states and avoiding many tariffs that may be imposed on imported European brands. The company offers a range of tea brands under CTE Tea Red and Blue Labels and Tole tea, in both inexpensive bulk loose leaf and higher value single serving tea bags. According to the company, about 10% of local distribution occurs in Southern Cameroon where higher added value packaged teas are more prominent.

Local partnerships and responsible growth for multinational brands

local partnerships multinational tea brands

Source: Euromonitor International "Growth Opportunities for Packaged Hot Drinks in Africa" February 2015

Given unique operating environments, multinationals must tweak their strategies to suit individual markets. This approach will take time. Consumer trial is often an important part of the equation, in addition to building relationships with fragmented, independent retail points of sale. Local sources of production can also help to reduce prices. In 2014, Nestlé made the decision to source Cameroonian-produced coffee for its Nescafé instant coffee product and cease foreign imports. This was, in large part, to avoid a substantial tariff on imported coffee products. Nescafé in Cameroon is now sourced from Cameroon coffee growers, processed in Cote d'Ivoire and then returned to its market of origin for retail sale. In 2015, the company began to package 2g single-serve Nescafé sachets in Cameroon as well; a low priced pack type that helps to make the brand accessible to lower income consumers.

In terms of global tea brands, Lipton (Unilever) is estimated to have had some success since 2010, growing its market share to 15% in retail value terms, but well behind CTE Tea’s 25% share of sales. On top of locally produced competition, major European brands are also challenged by low-cost imported Asian tea and by imported private label options from growing European supermarket chains (the main distribution point for European brands). Private label tea from European supermarket brands including Super U, Leader Price, Grand Jury and Casino, are expected to perform well, with an increasing number of modern grocery outlets expected to open over the forecast period. While volume growth in Cameroon’s budding tea industry will continue over the next five years, the opportunity for the largest global packaged tea brands is likely to remain limited for the time being.

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