The Sunday Mail
ZIMBABWE is home to some of the best products in Africa.
Whilst competition has been growing, the reality is that there has been an explosion in demand for local products in regional markets, thanks to the renewed interest by President Mnangagwa’s Second Republic to grow the country’s footprint on the continent.
Most consumers in Africa have confirmed that local products taste better than what other countries are offering, indicating a positive outlook for Zimbabwe’s exports.
Markets have also been opening in non-traditional markets across Africa.
Current efforts are, therefore, focused on connecting local suppliers with leading distributors across the continent.
The just-ended Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) in Egypt confirmed the growing demand for local products, with scores of potential buyers across the continent looking to connect with Zimbabwean suppliers of diversified products.
Whilst IATF provided a platform for participating companies to connect with potential partners, it also gave Zimbabwe room to benchmark its products with African trends.
The benchmarking is an opportunity for local companies to consider best options to position themselves as preferred suppliers of products that are available in other African markets.
The reality is that Zimbabwe is not the only country seeking to grow its exports to African markets.
The race effectively boils down to quality, packaging and niche offerings.
In this highly competitive world, international buyers are looking for reliable suppliers in quick turnaround time.
Buyers indicated that suppliers must be able to meet the full order on time consistently, if they are to have an edge over competitors.
For small businesses with capacity challenges, they must consider consolidating, which will make it easy to meet buyers’ minimum requirements.
No compromise on quality
Historically, industries in Africa were developed along geographical lines, with countries in the same regions producing similar products.
This means products manufactured in Zimbabwe are likely to be produced in neighbouring countries such as Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana.
Quality becomes a crucial selling point, as distributors are looking for products that will not be difficult to sell.
Local companies should, thus, strive to attain the best possible quality.
At IATF, Zimbabwean manufactures presented products like processed foods and clothing/textiles.
They also presented haircare products.
Reviews from potential distributors revealed that local products on display can compete with those from any part of Africa, which is a boon for exporters seeking new markets on the continent.
Future in heritage-based exports
Most countries in Africa are fast moving towards heritage-based exports, which are anchored in commercialisation of natural endowments.
Most countries exhibited natural and organic products that respond to global trends, where consumers are looking for healthier and natural options.
Organic and natural products, primarily wild fruits and herbs, took most of the space.
Zimbabwe was not left behind, as participating companies — including those from rural areas — showcased ongoing efforts to value-add wild fruits and plants such as baobab, mapfura and zumbani.
At the Zimbabwean pavilion, youth-led and rural-based enterprises exhibited products such as baobab powder; and skincare products made from a combination of mongongo and coffee, baobab and lemon grass, and ximenia and lemon.
These products were, by comparison, of far better quality than what other countries were offering.
Playing around with common indigenous plants and fruits in producing cosmetics gave Zimbabwean companies a competitive edge, making it easy for them to connect with more distributors.
Discussions at IATF indicated that consumers perceive products made from more than one plant or fruit to have more benefits, and this perception has potential to drive growth.
Going forward, Zimbabwe has an opportunity to become the leading exporter of heritage-based products, as the country has abundant wild fruits and herbs that are found in all provinces.
Capacitating producers and strengthening market linkages can create a competitive advantage for the country to unlock value in heritage-based products.
Sustainable development issues
Whilst using natural endowments has several advantages, distributors are increasingly getting concerned about the impact of production processes on the environment.
Distributors were also showing huge interest in products that address global challenges.
For example, one of the companies at the Zimbabwean pavilion exhibited a vegetable oil that is environmentally friendly and has both a high flash point and high fire point.
The fluid is used in products such as transformers and transmission lines, oil switches and oil-filled capacitors.
Potential for the product to be a cheap and environmentally friendly oil for transformers excited many distributors and financing partners.
These products contribute to the sustainable development thrust.
Other exhibitors also showcased how exports will improve livelihoods for many.
Such messaging made it easy to connect with potential partners.
In other pavilions, companies which exhibited products that contribute towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals also received many inquiries on how their goods can land in other markets.
Packaging differentiates producers
As indicated above, whilst Zimbabwe had top-quality products, it was also competing with other countries offering the same goods.
Quality was a major determinant of success. Packing also played an important role, where distributors are forcing producers out of a cocoon, where it is acceptable to have poor packaging on the basis that a product is coming from a developing country.
Distributors are looking for packaging that competes with products from developed countries, especially in Europe and Asia.
Thus, the challenge for companies looking to perform well in African markets is to come up with packaging designs that are unique and modern.
Producers must also ensure labelling — including additional requirements for processed foods, such as nutritional values — can compete well with products coming from any part of the continent.
Allan Majuru is the ZimTrade chief executive officer.