You will be able to see what I achieved with Mamy Poko in Kenya. The distributor also worked on effective promotions in the market. I was saddened to see this potential come to an end before it could fully bloom. But the lessons stayed with me.
In all my dealings with low income diaper consumers in Africa, we focus on consumer engagement. We try and understand what is important to them. Hence we can summarize the top five key indicators of quality. And we even went as far as getting the consumers to rank these in terms of priority. From those discussions, the top five indicators of quality to them, in order of priority, are as follows:
- Cloth-like backsheet
- Closure system: preferably Velcro and better still stretching ears—not tape
- Absorbency (My goal was to provide African mothers with a quality product at a good price. That was my mission back then and it is still my mission today. That has not changed. I worked with quality brands in Africa such as Fitti, Molfix and Mamy Poko. For all these brands, if L size can take 1L of normal water that is a good start, no need to complicate the exercise with saline water, etc. I used to run these demos with normal water, surrounded by mothers and I it felt like I was a magician! Some of the few benefits of our industry. The true wow effect!)
- Leak guards: Double leg cuffs as opposed to single.
- Wetness indicator (nice to have) but the least of the five points.
I don’t know whether I still feel the same way about B grades today though. I think they can cause real havoc and damage to the industry if not managed well, and the whole industry may suffer. I am seeing it in the South African market today. But that is a discussion for another day. The B grade imports are really causing havoc. About four small diaper manufacturers in Durban have closed down. Another two in Johannesburg have also recently closed. The market is flooded with quality pull up diapers from China. Again, the quality is beyond question. It is how they come in that is a challenge. Managed well, these quality B grades could provide quality alternatives to the consumer, and the traders and consumers also win. The local manufacturers, big and small would also make money. Ethiopia has managed this challenge much better and in an interestingly fairly simple way. Customs must put a value on the imported B grades.
Supply tended to be erratic but I always aimed to buy quality diaper products. I then moved on to Molfix, a diaper brand manufactured in Turkey by Hayat Group, also a fantastic brand. I used to call it the “diaper on steroids” because it was the first brand that we worked with that would take one liter of water and still remain dry. My team and I loved doing the demos that proved this point. We learned a lot from the consumers. We learned how important it was to have individually wrapped singles as well as five packs in achieving affordability for the consumer. And it does not have to translate to lower margins per piece for the manufacturer. If anything you can actually make it slightly higher and still be safe.
By year two, we were ready to offer our customers a brand in original packaging. We offered them Mamy Poko from Unicharm. The brand came in pull ups for all sizes. The pull up benefit was a lovely differentiator in a very cluttered market. There were a lot of cheap options in the market, with a plastic backsheet, from South Africa and China. Pampers was the market leader, with an equivalent of Sleep n Play (which was normally the lower end offering/economy offering), but in Zimbabwe at that time it was presented with the green packaging, which was normally for Active Baby range (which was normally the value proposition).
The above observations were direct lessons from the consumers themselves. The African Mother. Most of them from the Bottom Of The Pyramid/low end. And what we also learned very quickly was that no product, and please repeat that, no product, gets the same interrogation by the consumer like a baby product and in my experience, specifically the baby diaper.
In markets where there is a clutter of cheap brands, having quality as your point of differentiation from the crowd is a good way to gain market share. Molfix has used this very well in Nigeria, allowing them to gain above 44% market share in five years. I think that any player who launches a well-priced pull up diaper in Nigeria will most likely achieve the same impact. Unicharm, with what they have achieved in the low income markets of Asia with pull ups, are well placed to take on the Africa region with their pull up version and have the first mover advantage. If they take the lessons of the successes in Asia, they have a chance to dominate and set a new trend in Africa, in the same way they did in India. The signs seen in the way that the Kenyan market reacted to Mamy Poko and how it disrupted the market, even with a small to medium size distributor in the market, these alone are an indicator of the possibilities they can achieve if they had the courage to go for it.
They can excel in Africa. Their model is great. Pull ups at the price of tape diapers. And the point very well executed in their marketing communication: “Easy to Wear, Easy to Buy.” My recommendation would be for Unicharm to ignore modern trade altogether and to build their own capacity by setting up a micro franchising model in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. I have explained this concept in my previous article, 5 Steps to a Micro Franchising Model.
And I am proud to say I went up against the big boys. I rolled up my sleeves, dug in and made my mark. When I saw my brand, Mamy Poko next to Pampers on the shelf in one independent outlet called Dube Hyper in Mabvuku, Harare, for the first time, it was a most satisfying feeling. It comes second only to the feeling of holding my first born child seconds after she was born. I felt that my work that mattered was finally rewarded.
Do you have want to launch your brand in Africa region ? Do you have a BoP (Base of the Pyramid)/low income consumers project anywhere in Africa? Do you want to bounce off ideas from someone who has been there? A place called BoP. Someone who has learned a few, tried things, did things, got the tee shirt. I have been to BoP. Tell me about the brand that you want to launch in Africa.