LAGOS/NAIROBI: Africa presents huge opportunities for FMCG companies as long as they learn from the experience of brand pioneers and follow four key rules, a new research paper from McKinsey has advised.

Three of the management consultancy's analysts – Yaw Agyenim-Boateng, Richard Benson-Armer and Bill Russo – said that urbanisation and mobile communications are having a "tremendous impact" on Africa's consumer market.

That is fuelling economic growth and the continent is expected to see GDP growth rise from 4.9% today to 6.2% in 2025, by when there will be an additional 90m consumers with discretionary income.

Also, over half of Africa's consumers (53%) are aged 16 to 30 and they are expected to contribute to more than $400bn of total consumption growth in the next decade.

Reaching these increasingly urbanised and knowledgeable consumers will not be easy, the authors concede because there are a host of challenges, ranging from poor infrastructure to a highly fragmented retail market outside of South Africa, but a number of well-known brands have found success and others could follow suit.

The authors said brands must follow four imperatives. They should: "Take a granular view of growth; tailor the offer to local needs and preferences; create a bespoke route-to-market model by geography and channel; and build a large, well-equipped sales force."

First, the most successful entrants into Africa are those that have been careful and selective about their chosen markets. Rather than attempting to build a presence across entire countries, they targeted the fastest-growing cities or city clusters.

A city-based strategy is essential in Africa, the report said, but companies should also develop fact-based forecasts about the readiness of markets for specific product categories.

Secondly, given the diversity of the continent's peoples, companies must seek to understand local needs and preferences and then tailor their offers accordingly.

For example, FMCG giant P&G changed the formula of its Ariel detergent in Nigeria to make it lather faster and use less water after realising that Nigerian consumers regard lather as a sign of a detergent's quality and effectiveness.

FMCG brands also need to be aware that there are wide differences in consumer purchasing behaviour. For example, most Angolans look at ads and compare prices to get the best deal whereas only 27% of Kenyans do the same.

Thirdly, FMCG companies must organise an effective distribution system, which is not an easy task considering the often poor state of Africa's roads. But some, like UK drinks group Diageo, have succeeded in expanding its coverage after identifying profitable outlets.

Finally, McKinsey said FMCG companies must build up a large and well-trained sales force to build relationships with small retailers.

They could also learn from Cadbury, the British chocolate brand, and Dutch brewer Heineken, which both equipped their sales reps with gadgets that fed back precious consumer data that is scarce in most African markets.

Taken together, the "payoff will be well worth it," the report authors said. "African consumers reward brands they trust, and a brand that wins them over can thrive in the market for decades to come."

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff