Den Simon Lagos

Nigeria’s Kuddy Cosmetics began as a one-woman business run out of a suitcase, with Kudirat Fashola bringing beauty products back from the US in her luggage.

More than 20 years later, her daughter Zainob helps run the company, which now wholesales leading beauty brands and is flooded with requests from companies eager to crack Nigeria’s cosmetics market.

“They love Nigeria. Every week I get e-mails… [international] brands see it as a large, growing market,” Zainob said.

The trend applies across sub-Saharan Africa, which firms see as poised for growth and a middle class boom.

Top cosmetic firm L’Oreal is looking to boost sales and output in the region, but experts say that winning the loyalty of Africans has unique challenges.

Unlike a beer or a television, products that aim to dominate must be designed specifically for local consumers – especially their hair and skin.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global market was expected to grow at double the rate of the market, L’Oreal said last month. Last year, the firm posted a 52 percent year-on-year rise in sales in the region.

To reach its stated goal of overtaking Unilever as the highest-selling brand in sub-Saharan Africa, L’Oreal has begun reinforcing its existing commercial hubs in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

In addition to its plants in Kenya and South Africa, the group is looking at opening a facility in west Africa.

For L’Oreal, research is crucial to its aim, including at a facility in South Africa, which “enables the group to evaluate formulas for the specific needs of consumers in the region”.

The company said 60 percent of its sales in sub-Saharan Africa were from products designed specifically for Africans.

A 2012 study of the South African cosmetics market by research group Euromonitor showed that offering innovative products tailored to local demands had far more influence on sales than brand loyalty.

Describing South African customers as “fickle”, Euromonitor predicted products that offered a combination of benefits would sell best.

Fashola said that description could easily apply to Nigerian consumers as well.

Any producer who was flexible and willing to cater to Nigerians could succeed in the country, she said. – Sapa-AFP