Africa's ever-changing lifestyle...rise of snooty wine experts, tech snobs and the beautiful people

Know what a dram is? Neither do we. Africans are more prosperous, living rich, smelling of expensive perfumes--but are also dying of it.

IN November, the Kenya-headquartered regional beverages giant East African Breweries Limited (EABL) launched an online drinks portal, allowing consumers to have their orders home-delivered.

The menu offering is an eclectic mix, ranging from single malts and blended scotch whiskies to beers, rums and liqueurs.  

In media interviews, a spokesman termed the uptake as robust, suggesting they had benefited from a holiday bump. If it takes hold, and there is no reason to suspect that it will not, it would be a welcome boost to the firm’s flatlining revenue by focusing more on spirits. 

It is a shrewd move: the portal in many ways is a microcosm of Africa’s changing lifestyle trends.

EABL, majority held by the UK’s Diageo, is not your average African brewer: in its full year financial results reported in August, it turned in a gross profit of $335 million, at current rates. 

A few weeks later, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) released its 2013 report, which showed that while global export value remained at £4.3 billion ($6.67 billion), due to struggles in the key EU and North American markets,  export value to Africa rose 3%, from £238.7 million in 2012 to £245.2 million ($380 million) in 2013. 

Africa, soon-to-be the spirits continent

When the dominant but flat South African market is shunted from the equation, export values in the rest of Africa actually grew 6% to £81.7 million ($127 million) in 2013, from £77 million in 2012. This translated to 23.25 million litres of pure alcohol (LPA—the industry’s chosen unit of measurement) in 2013, from 21.25 million litres the year before.

Additionally, emerging markets such as Kenya nearly doubled their exports volume while Nigeria grew 30%. The data is only from the UK-based association, suggesting stouter growth from the region when numbers from other major spirit distillers, such as the Irish and Canadians, are captured.

Given scotch whisky is a non-essential purchase, the brisk growth in African numbers would mirror not only the rise of a social class with disposable income, but also marketers’ efforts in shifting perception from that of an old man’s drink into something more trendy, including for snooty types able to distinguish their single malts from the blends using drams and “notes”. 

EABL’s portal is also betting on increased internet connectivity and the growth of smartphone penetration for uptake, with both PC and mobile options purchase options available. 

Figures from Gartner show that while worldwide sales of mobile phones remained flat in the third quarter of 2014, the sales of smartphones in that period grew 20.3% to breach the 300 million mark, with sales seen reaching 1.2 billion units in 2014.  By 2018, nine of ten phones are projected to be smartphones.

Africa, along with the Middle East and Eastern Europe, saw the highest increase of such sales, growing nearly 50% year-on-year. The average African market now has about 40% smartphone penetration, and double that for the more advanced ones, while in South Africa some 91% of internet users are owners of a smartphone. 

Getting comfortable with online buying

This would also mean more downloads of applications for Africa, with the major players Apple Store and Google Play having an excess of 2 million apps listed, while data shows more Africans are buying things digitally and getting comfortable at it, as cyber-criminals thrive.

These apps have mutated from the pioneer types: you can now request and track couriers for a metered fee in South Africa, watch movie trailers and videos in Nigeria, or buy your morning coffee via an app that you scanned your bank card into.

The growth of the African middle class and the battering down of cultural barriers has had a lot to do with it. Airline cabin crew we talked to report the ubiquitous across-generation use of tablets on board, where more and more African children struggle to speak native languages.

Bourgeoisie events

Colourful bourgeoisie events like Blankets and Wine are now becoming a regional franchise, where audiences are encouraged to drive in with blankets, a picnic chair and some wine to listen to mellow music, while French-inspired “secret” Diner en Blanc parties are now a regular fixture in Kigali, which two years ago provided the setting for the first such event in Africa.

It is in the food too: “Made in Africa Sushi” exports are be found from Lesotho to Banjul, but foodies report more Africans taking to such restaurants in regional capitals. There is even space for that rare African breed, the vegetarian. International fast food and ice cream parlours are sprouting all over the continent, from Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery to the Subway’s and KFC, while concepts such as food drive-ins are also taking root, feeding into a runaway fast food culture.

Lifestyle gains also demand that you spend to look good: French cosmetics giant L’Oreal estimates the value of the African beauty and cosmetics care market, quantified at $8.4 billion in 2012 will grow at an annual rate of 8%-10%, well ahead of the global 4% rate. In 2017, the sub-Saharan beauty market is expected to reach $12 billion in 2017.

Middle class estates continue to sprout in Accra and Lagos, schools offering western curriculum continue to have waiting lists, art markets thrive, weaves the norm, domestic airlines are packed, malls the byword and shiny new cars chock-a-block on Chinese-built highways, as dealers like Porsche unpack showrooms all over.

For many lucky to be in this veritable band, held as Africa’s growth driver, living on the continent has never been so good.

But with all this comes a downside: non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as cancers and diabetes are now on the rise in Africa, no longer the “rich man’s” affliction.   

The World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that by the end of this year, chronic diseases will account for a quarter of deaths in Africa. By 2020, the largest increases in NCD deaths will occur in Africa, surpassing by far any of the developed countries. 

Africa can’t have it all its own way, it seems.

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