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The Rise of Local Chains Reflects Deeper Trends on the Continent

To walk along the main road in Ruaka, a town on the outskirts of Nairobi, is to glimpse the extremes of African shopping. Market stalls selling vegetables and charcoal spill onto the street. In the distance is a plush mall with a Carrefour, one of 20 franchises of the French supermarket in Kenya’s capital. Further up, though, is a Quickmart. The Kenyan supermarket chain has 59 branches, an increase from 25 in 2020. On average Africans buy more than 70% of their food, drink and cosmetics from informal vendors. Supermarkets have historically served an affluent elite, opting not to compete for poorer customers. But local chains such as Quickmart suggest that it is possible to fill the missing middle in African retail. Their success reflects deeper changes in African economies and demography. Analysts have long tried to measure Africa’s “middle class” by counting people within somewhat arbitrary income ranges. Newer analysis has incorporated data on ownership of bourgeois assets such as fridges. Last year Fraym, an analytics firm, estimated that there were 330m people in what it called Africa’s “consumer class”, roughly a quarter of the continent’s population of 1.3bn. Two-thirds were in just five countries (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, and Algeria); most of the other third were spread across a further 15 states, including Kenya.