Multinationals seek to milk Africa’s appetite for dairy

European groups aim to tap into growth potential through expansion across the continent

At Anno Walivaka’s two-acre family farm in a valley below Mount Elgon in western Kenya, daily milk production from its handful of cows has increased from less than five litres per animal to more than 15 within a decade. And Mr Walivaka is confident that soon “it could get to 20 or even 25 litres”.

Milk consumption in Africa is among the lowest in the world but, like the yield from Mr Walivaka’s cows, it is on the rise.

Those betting on the expansion of the African dairy sector include Arla Foods, the Danish dairy co-operative and French group Danone, as they look to the continent to spur growth.

On a visit to Kenya this month, Pierre-André Térisse, Danone’s executive vice-president for Africa, said he remained optimistic on the long-term outlook even though the recent slump in commodity prices and tight foreign exchange availability in some countries has made the business climate in Africa “more difficult”.

He forecast that the company’s revenues across the continent would rise by up to 10 per cent a year until 2020, and double that in west Africa.

That is more than twice its global growth outlook. It made €1.4bn in revenues in Africa last year.

Arla Foods also has big hopes for the continent. It has set a target of increasing its annual revenues from sub-Saharan Africa fivefold within five years – from €90m last year to €460m by 2020.

Last year, Arla created joint venture companies in Senegal and Nigeria aimed at improving its distribution network for expansion into west Africa.

Analysts say that despite the challenges of climate and low income, the potential demand for dairy in Africa is considerable.

Annual per capita milk consumption there is 37 litres, compared with the global average of 104 litres, according to World Bank data. Meanwhile, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is set to double by 2050 and become much more prosperous.

Kevin Bellamy, global dairy strategist at Rabobank, said, “Africa is definitely on the dairy map”, in a report in July, in which he highlighted that 14 dairy deals were done in the sector last year, compared with just three in 2014.

That interest is spurred in part, he says, by the slowdown in China that has led dairy companies to look to other developing countries for growth. Milk production in Europe is also set to rise after the lifting of EU quota restrictions last year.

However, deal activity in the sector has slowed this year. “The low oil price and the strength of the dollar make dairy less affordable in the region, so I think Africa is going to be a longer-term play,” says Mr Bellamy.

Danone, which first struck a deal in Morocco in 1953, has invested €1bn in Africa over the past two years, which has stretched its network across the continent.

This year it became the majority shareholder in west Africa-based Fan Milk and bought Halayeb, one of Egypt’s oldest cheese producers.

It is also deepening its relationship with Brookside Dairy, a Kenyan company in which it acquired a 40 per cent stake for €130m in 2014 and which is one of the largest dairy processors and sellers in east Africa.

Analysts believe Danone will focus Fan Milk on yoghurt, with the intention of developing sales in Nigeria, where yoghurt accounted for 20 per cent of dairy sales of $2.6bn in 2014, according to Rabobank. Danone is the world’s biggest yoghurt maker by sales.

“In Nigeria, Fan Milk was mainly an ice cream company,” says Miguel Azevedo, analyst at Citi. “I imagine now that Danone is in control they will steer it towards a more yoghurt-focused business and redirect the country’s strategy using their strength in that sector and their vast experience in the continent.

“Yoghurt is a high-margin business and in line with current trends in favour of healthy products; consumption in Nigeria, under normal economic conditions, will massively increase.”

Buying the stake in Brookside, which is majority owned by the family of Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, offers a springboard to further expansion. In 2015 Brookside bought the Ugandan dairy company Sameer Agriculture and Livestock; this year, it bought a majority stake in Inyange, a dairy, water and juice company in Rwanda.

“We’ve got a very good relationship and it’s a two-way street,” says Muhoho Kenyatta, Brookside’s executive chairman, of the links with Danone.

“We take from their global experience, and with milk collection, they’re learning from us.”

Mr Térisse, previously finance director, attributes Danone’s success to a “revolution” that began 18 months ago when all African operations were taken out of their respective product divisions and placed into a geographical-based unit, the only one in the company.

This contrasts with rivals such as Nestlé, which groups sub-Saharan Africa with Asia and Oceania, and north Africa with Europe and the Middle East.

A key part of Danone’s African strategy, he says, is to “make products that are built by Africans, for Africans”.

“So instead of fresh yoghurt, let’s look at long shelf-life,” Mr Térisse adds. “Instead of having nice cups, let’s look at having pouches if they’re more convenient. Instead of being only dairy, let’s look at cereals – there are many traditions which are mixing cereals and dairy in Africa.”

This will help the company achieve another goal, namely to expand its customer base. “One of the key objectives we have is to play in the mass market,” he says.

“We want to be able to provide to very poor people very specific offers.”

But Danone also wants to use the continent as a type of laboratory; to “invent in Africa things that we are going to use elsewhere”, Mr Térisse says.

“The problem of Europe, of many parts of the world, is when you change you have many things to lose,” he says. “In Africa, if we change we don’t have that much to lose, but we have much to win.”

A place out of time: Groups warned to wait before investing

Despite Danone’s success on the continent, Pierre-André Térisse, Danone’s executive vice-president for Africa, is advising multinational groups to delay big investments in Africa until the challenging economic conditions in many of the biggest nations improve.

“I don’t think it’s the right timing for people to make big bets and meaningful investments in Africa,” he said. “I think, yes, our bet is the right one. I think others will follow, but [not] immediately.”

His view was echoed by Sir Tim Clark, the president of Emirates Airline, who said on Tuesday that some African routes might be cut or have their frequencies reduced if current conditions persist.

Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said Mr Térisse’s stance was “understandable”, given that the biggest three African economies, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt, are either not growing or experiencing acute foreign exchange shortages – or both. John Aglionby in Kitale.



By John Aglionby - Nairobi Maggie Fick - Lagos Scheherazade Dan

Published on Nov 01,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 861]



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