The African restaurant chain Nando`s specializes in piri piri chicken.
Success ingredient chilli
The Nando's restaurant chain specializes in piri piri chicken.

South Africa, 1987: Two friends meet for lunch in a simple pub in the south of Johannesburg. They order chicken. And are completely enthusiastic about the taste. This is roughly the beginning of a global success story. Because Fernando Duarte, a native of Mozambique, and the South African Robbie Brozin quickly become business partners. They buy the small restaurant, name it Nando's and perfect the main course, a grilled chicken marinated in a Portuguese-Mozambican piri piri chili sauce. And from the start, they both think big.

The around 1.200 branches of the Nando's restaurant chain are decorated with contemporary art from South Africa.
Africa on the walls The around 1.200 branches of the Nando's restaurant chain are decorated with contemporary art from South Africa. The company's own art collection comprises more than 17.000 works.

With success: Nando's became a franchise and system catering group with outlets from Cape Town to Dubai, from Manchester to Washington, from Dhaka to Sydney. Nando's today has around 1.200 restaurants in 23 countries. There are 350 branches in Great Britain alone, one of the Group's most important markets. The company also sells spices and sauces in supermarkets, the main ingredient of which, the piri piri chillies, is grown by more than a thousand African smallholders especially for the company.


Nando's success is more than extraordinary. Because African companies and their brands are usually not noticed on the international stage. Probably only a few European consumers can spontaneously name a label from the neighboring continent, regardless of whether they are a large telecommunications provider or a small jewelry manufacturer. “Industrialized countries have dominated the world of brands and marketing since the beginning of global trade. They knew how to create narratives about American freedom, German engineering, Japanese technology, French style and Italian luxury, while developing countries only exported raw materials and not brands, ”says Nick Dutton, marketing expert in South Africa. 

In the current ranking of the finance portal Brand Finance among the 500 most valuable and strongest global brands not a single African company is represented. “It cannot be denied that the African market is still immature and fragmented compared to its global counterparts. The lack of connection between the individual African countries means that brands cannot grow and therefore do not flourish outside their home markets, ”explains Jeremy Sampson, Managing Director of Brand Finance Africa (see Interview). 

Interview with Jeremy Sampson, Brand Finance Africa

Hardly striking

Why are there so few African brands that are perceived outside the continent? Sampson: The best-known brands are probably Nelson Mandela or the rugby national team ...

African companies: Lots of competition on the continent

The annual consumer surveys conducted by African labels show that they are having a hard time even in their home markets "Brand Africa 100" in 27 African countries. According to this, the brands “most admired” by Africans are predominantly of foreign origin; the current top five include Nike, Adidas, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Tecno Mobile (from China). Foreign companies are often even perceived as African, says “Brand Africa” publisher Thebe Ikalafeng. Because international corporations invest a lot of time and money in their brands, for example by sponsoring football clubs or in the local adaptation of their products. Local brands are lagging behind, Ikalafeng regrets.

The strongest local brands include those "from banks, insurance companies, or telecommunications companies that dominate a country or region," says Sampson, as well as "authentic local brands that consumers are related to." The front runner - and even regionally and not just in Nigeria - is Dangote. The conglomerate, founded in 1978, pursues the mission of covering basic needs and has built up a diversified range over decades: Dangote can be found in industries such as oil and gas, real estate, finance, cement - and also in the grocery trade with basics such as sugar, salt, spices and pasta . In addition, founder and CEO Aliko Dangote is the well-known face of the company. "The excellence of the brand and the leadership of the founder are closely related," says Ikalafeng of the brand's radiance. A conglomerate is also present in many households in East African Uganda: The Mukwano Group produces a lot of things that consumers need in everyday life, from petroleum jelly and cleaning agents to cooking oil, soap and drinking water to plastics. According to Brand Africa, beer brands such as Star in Nigeria or Tusker in Kenya as well as telecommunications companies such as Globacom (Nigeria) or Econet (Zimbabwe) are particularly popular. 

Out Of Africa there are also African companies 

So what African brands could you come across outside of the continent? For example, on rooibos iced tea from BOS, fruit juices from Pioneer Foods or Amarula liqueur from Distell as well as the aforementioned fast food chain Nando's. They all come from South Africa, probably the most progressive African country in terms of marketing. "They all have professional marketers on board and consider brand building an investment rather than a cost," explains Sampson.

“Made in Africa” can also be discovered in the fashion sector, and here the radius extends beyond South Africa. The Enzi label comes from Ethiopia, for example, and appeals primarily to a fan base in the USA with high-quality leather sneakers. “There aren't many African brands that are internationally recognized. We want to change that, ”explains co-founder Azariah Mengistu Enzi's mission. “We show Africa's potential in terms of craftsmanship. People are often surprised to learn where the shoes are made. "

Chic sneakers from Ethiopia
Frustration sometimes leads to inspiration: The two Kenyan friends Azariah Mengistu and Jawad Braye lived in the USA and Europe for a number of years and, according to Mengistu, were "shocked by the general perception people had of Africa". This gave rise to the drive to want to build a strong brand that shows the potential of the continent. In 2011 Mengistu and Braye founded the Ethiopian shoe brand Enzi, which produces sneakers from high-quality leather by hand.
The shoes are available through its own store in Addis Ababa, via direct mail and through trading partners in Hong Kong, Shanghai, London, Munich, Paris and Chicago. A pair costs between 115 and 170 euros. According to Mengistu, the most important market for Enzi sneakers is the USA, where most of the fans of independent “black-owned brands” can be found. The Enzi founders are currently planning to set up a training center for design and production in Ethiopia.
More about the label

The label too SoleRebels is from Ethiopia and has made a name for itself with cotton sneakers and soles made from recycled car tires. The brand operates its own shops in Germany, Singapore, the USA and Taiwan. The Nigerian shoe brand Shekudo, on the other hand, combines traditional woven fabrics and carved wood heels with funky colors and made it to Paris and New York catwalks.

Marketing expert Nick Dutton believes that more companies from developing regions with strong brands and stories will stand out in the future. He founded the surf label himself with business partner Sal Masekela in 2017 Mami wata, "That challenges the conventions of the surf lifestyle category that sells a story of blonde hair, blue eyes and California." Dutton hopes her Mami Wata brand will become "the first and largest African lifestyle brand." When designing clothing and surfboards, they rely on African imagery and exclusively on local production.

Surf rider from South Africa
Mami Wata (Pidgin English for "mother of water") is the name of an African water spirit - its meaning makes it the perfect namesake for a young surf brand from Cape Town. The company, founded in 2017, designs and manufactures shorts, T-shirts, hats and surfboards in South Africa and sells them from Switzerland to the USA.
“Our mantra is to use African materials whenever possible, and at least to manufacture everything directly and locally,” explains CEO Nick Dutton, who runs Mami Wata together with Sal Masekela. On the one hand, your company would like to create direct jobs and, on the other hand, help attract surfers from all over the world to South Africa and boost local tourism. Nice success for the label: Mami Wata was invited this year by the Italian luxury brand Moncler to sell parts of the range through Moncler stores worldwide. And in 2021, the young brand intends to intensify its main sales market, the USA, locally.
More about the label

Design in Africa

Not every African company can offer “Made in Africa”. For example, the Ghanaian label would like Afrisocks represent the "vitality of West Africa" ​​with colorful socks and score with high quality. But because, according to founder Huzaif Alhassan, there is not a single sock producer in all of West Africa, he is forced to have it manufactured in Turkey. That should change: Encouraged by the international success of socks, Alhassan plans to open the first sock factory in Ghana soon.

No Gidigidi from Ghana
Colorful and patterned: The socks of the label Afrisocks, founded in 2018, are inspired by traditional Kente patterns and are sold in 60 countries. According to CEO Huzaif Alhassan, customers are, on the one hand, fashion-loving "hipsters" in Great Britain, Italy or Germany and, on the other hand, the African diaspora in the USA. The fact that Alhassan sells socks of all things has to do with the costly postal delivery system in his homeland, Ghana: He was looking for a product that represented West African design and heritage - and that was so light that the shipping costs remained manageable.
Afrisocks - they cost around 10 euros per pair - are still made in Turkey, but the construction of the first sock factory in West Africa is planned for 2021. The young label is already making laptop bags and face masks locally by hand. Incidentally, the names of the socks are borrowed from West African slang words: They are called Tro-tro (“Minibus”), Oga (“Boss”) or No Gidigidi (“Take it easy”).
More about the label

The "Unity Dolls" by Auldon Toys. The dolls are the flagship product of the Nigerian toy label and are made in China, the main producing country of the global toy industry. But, as Auldon Toys emphasizes, all accessories and clothing items for the dolls are made by women and young people in Nigerian workshops. CEO Paul Orajiaka attaches great importance to this, because the Unity Dolls stand for Nigerian identity: “Most toys in Nigeria have no social or cultural relevance for children. The recognition of Africa's unique diversity in the minds of young Africans is an important selling point for our products. "

Barbie alternative from Nigeria
Their names are Ronke, Amaka and Aisha, are aiming for careers as doctors or lawyers according to the product description and wear traditional robes of the Nigerian tribes Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa: With the "Unity" dolls presented in 2015, the Lagos-based toy retailer and manufacturer Auldon Toys opened a gap in the market. The West African alternative to the blonde, fair-skinned Barbie is well received by Nigerian parents and has earned Auldon Toys a lot of media attention and a fan base among tourists and Africans abroad.
The Unity Dolls are available in several African countries, in Great Britain and in the duty-free shops of African airports for around 20 euros per doll. Behind Auldon is a rags-to-riches success story: CEO Paul Orajiaka founded his toy empire at the age of 18 and savings of a hundred dollars. Today, the 42-year-old Harvard graduate is wealthy and on the verge of political office in Nigeria.
More about the label

How African companies are expanding their radius

Thanks to the Internet, African companies can now address customers all over the world. In addition to direct shipping, fashion portals such as Kisua and Industrie Africa or Jumia, which is dubbed the “African Amazon”, help expand the radius of action. “African companies should use the power of e-commerce and think globally rather than locally, because the market opportunities are much greater outside the continent,” recommends Afrisocks boss Alhassan. His company sends the colorful socks from Ghana all over the world - free of charge for customers, in order to overcome an initial inhibition threshold. “For many, this is the first product they ever order from Ghana,” he says and laughs, “the customers often take photos of the packaging and post it on social media”. Alhassan hopes that this will generate interest in other Ghanaian products among customers. And sneaker manufacturer Enzi doesn't just think about its own sales. The company was founded specifically to raise the reputation of “Made in Ethiopia” in general.

For many brands, it is obviously important not to sell interchangeable products, but rather to convey a strong statement: Whether it's South African art hanging on the walls of the more than a thousand Nando's branches, the image of an African water spirit on Mami Wata surfboards or happy ones Kente pattern on Afrisocks: Africa cannot be overlooked. "We should all", demands Alhassan, "proudly indicate our origins with our brands."

Photos: Nando's, Jeremy Sampson, Afrisocks (4), Auldon Toys, Enzi (3), Mami Wata (2)