Carrefour enters into sub-Saharan Africa

French retailer Carrefour, the second largest in the world, at the end of last month announced that it will enter eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Carrefour – which operates a mix of hypermarkets, supermarkets and convenience stores – said it will enter the West and Central African countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon,Congo, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The company already has a franchise partnership in North Africa.

Carrefour is, however, not entering sub-Saharan Africa by itself. The group has announced a joint venture with CFAO, a distributor of vehicles and pharmaceuticals in 32 African countries. CFAO is majority owned by Toyota Tsusho, the Toyota Group’s trading arm.

CFAO has also announced that it plans to establish “dozens” of shopping centres across Africa, with the first one expected to open in Cote d’Ivoire’s commercial hub Abidjan in 2015.

“Carrefour can anchor new shopping malls being built by CFAO to attract the growing number of wealthier Africans who can afford brands and modern retail/convenience stores,” commented Mike Dennis, a retail analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald.

A threat to existing players?

South African companies such as Shoprite and Massmart (owned by Walmart) have been major players in the growth of modern retail in sub-Saharan Africa. Some Kenyan supermarket chains – including Nakumatt and Uchumi – have also expanded outside their home market. So should these retailers be concerned by the entry of Carrefour?

Shoprite already has a substantial footprint across 17 sub-Saharan African countries and is not likely to be too worried by Carrefour’s entry. Shoprite CEO, Whitey Basson, last year told Reuters that he sees potential for over 700 stores in Nigeria alone.

Massmart’s parent company Walmart is the world’s number one retailer and has even deeper pockets than Carrefour.

Shoprite, however, only has a presence in three of the countries that Carrefour will enter. Of the eight countries that Carrefour is targeting, only two (Nigeria and Ghana) are English-speaking. Neither Shoprite nor Massmart has a presence in French-speaking West Africa.

Carrefour’s announcement comes at a time that an increasing number of multinationals are eyeing Africa’s fast growing economies. The most recent high profile deal in the retail sector was Walmart’s 2011 acquisition of South African group Massmart, which also has a footprint in many countries across the continent.

“In our view, the window is not closing fast in Africa but only slowly opening with some US retailers buying into Africa via South Africa and a lot of new retail management coming from Europe to run South African and African companies,” said Dennis. “As the per capita income grows so I suspect more retailers will look at joint ventures to enter Africa, and like Carrefour they will be via distribution companies.”