What most admired brands in Africa reveal: You can't go wrong with food, beer - and hope

Africa dreaming: Majority of most admired companies are aspirational brands, the kind that can help you land a date.

THIS week, tech giant Apple has recorded the biggest annual profit in corporate history, with record sales of the iPhone helping it to make $53.4bn in profit in the last 12 months – that’s nearly equivalent to Kenya’s entire annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If you slice it apart even further, Apple made a profit of $1,693.11 every second in the past year.

It’s remarkable that a technology company would out-perform every single corporate organisation that has made the modern world as we know it: all the energy, steel, metals and mining companies.

But it’s a testament to the power of the digital age, which, when stripped down to its basics, is really  selling aspirations – and hope is the best selling product of all time.

You can see it in the recently released Brand Africa 100 rankings, which list Africa’s most admired, and most valuable brands – both global companies, and homegrown African ones. MTN topped the most admired brand in Africa list; the South African mobile operator was also Africa’s most valuable homegrown brand.

Apple was the most valuable global brand – small wonder considering the company’s sterling financial performance, largely on the back of iPhone sales. But Apple didn’t make it into the top 10 of most admired brands in Africa, likely because of the high price tag of most of its products relative to incomes on the continent, unlike like rival Samsung’s.

Still, the bulk of the most admired companies are aspirational brands, the kind that are not necessarily essential to daily life, but can give you bragging rights, improve your social standing and can help you land a date: electronics and mobile companies, like MTN, Samsung and Apple; apparel brands, including Nike and Adidas, or auto manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz, Toyota and BMW.

Facebook posted a 146% increase in its brand value from last year’s rankings, the largest increase in the list – Facebook now has 100 million active users in Africa, and 80% of those come on mobile. That 100 million makes up 50% of all Africans connected to the Internet; in other words, Facebook is the entry point for Internet use for many Africans.

But when it comes to homegrown African brands, an interesting trend emerges. MTN tops the list, followed by fellow mobile operator Glo/Globacom in second place. But fully half of the top 10 are food and beverage companies – Tusker (Kenya, #4), Mukwano (Uganda, #5), Peak Milk (Nigeria, #8), Sasko (South Africa, #9) and Star Beer (Nigeria, #10).

Never go wrong
It suggests that to make it big in Africa, one should just keep it simple and basic – you can never go wrong with food and beer, it seems.

What is also remarkable are the companies that are not on the top 10 list: such as  “African fabric” manufacturer Vlisco, recognisable for its bright colours, bold patters, and boxy geometrical designs.

Vlisco is so ubiquitous in most of West Africa today that few people even realise it is not an African brand; the Dutch company was acquired by British private equity firm Actis in 2010 for $151 million, and has transitioned from a retailer of fabric to a fully-fledged fashion house, releasing 20 to 30 designs every few months to outpace the Chinese imitations that have encroached the market.

Vlisco has been retailing in Africa for more than 100 years, and has survived all kinds of turbulence in Africa’s political and economic landscapes; in 2011, Africa generated 95% of Vlisco’s $250 million in net sales that year.

But there are other hugely popular products in Africa that only didn’t make the list because they are “unbranded”, such as African Black Soap (also known as Dudu Osun), a classic example of a traditional product enjoying a resurgence in popularity, due to its ability to clear skin spots and blemishes.

Shea butter is also becoming a hot commodity in many African cities – in Nairobi for example, posters advertising “original shea butter from Ghana” abound in many local beauty parlours.

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