The insights here have been gathered over the years from direct consumer interactions, conversations and interviews with distributors and market observations. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest market and probably one of the most complicated to operate in, offers some an interesting perspective on Africa’s consumer market.
Tasked with finding a distributor in Nigeria, one of the potential distribution partners that I looked at was Great Brands, whose understanding of the diaper category was both deep and wide. They had been Kimberly-Clark’s distributor in Nigeria for a number of years and I found them to have deep understanding of what drives the Nigerian consumer, from the social pressures to the consumer habits and the purchase drivers. A lot of what they shared in those years forms part of the insights that I share here.
Diapers as a category generally has a high consumer awareness in Nigeria and are widely used by the middle and upper consumer classes. The disposable diaper’s benefits versus cloth (or nothing) are quite clear to the consumer. The mother bears the overall responsibility for the tidiness of the home and looking after the children. If your children look clean and presentable, it is perceived as evidence of good motherhood.
The biggest hurdle in achieving better growth for the diaper category is price. As a result, quality mid-priced disposable diapers as well as smaller packs are attractive to the middle and lower income earners. However, a fair understanding of specific product benefits among mid C and D groups (which may include stretching ears, breathable backsheets, velcro instead of tape, etc.), affordability and brand reputation are key purchase drivers.
Using a mix of disposable and cloth diapers is not uncommon, especially when economic times are tough. When times are tough, the consumers may make adjustments by having the baby wear cloth diapers during the day—when it is easy to see if the child is ready for a change or not. Then the child will wear disposable diapers at night when the mother and/or caregiver might be asleep and it is critical to ensure that the child remains dry all night. Alternatively, when no one else is around, the child may wear cloth diapers to save on diapers, but when there are visitors, the child will not only wear disposable diapers, usually a brand that is fitting for the mother/and or father’s social status. The social pressures of being perceived as a father or mother or parents who provide the best for their children also come into play.
The Family Unit and Other Information Sources
The family is the main unit of Nigerian society, and marriage is one of the most important social customs. Collectivism is an important part of family life, sometimes personal needs are omitted due to social obligations and expectations. Large families of four to six children are quite common in Nigeria and the majority of the population cherishes family, including the extended family of aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, as part of their culture. Family gatherings and contact with family are important. As a result, word of mouth from an older aunt regarding what brand to use on a child can go a long way.
Managing the household, keeping it tidy, doing the household chores, cooking, laundering, shopping, etc., is a mother’s overall role in the home. It will reflect positively on the mother if children look presentable whenever they appear in public. For the working mother, all the above are in addition to their day job, so they have to better organize their time to fit their obligations and responsibilities. The mother, even though she may have help, assumes full responsibility for the well-being of her child, the health, nutrition, cleanliness and hygiene, education and security.
Matrons and midwives at hospitals and health centers, especially in the lower socio-economic classes, and pediatricians in the higher economic classes, are important and trustworthy sources of information especially when it comes to serious matters. Many mothers tend to go to prenatal classes to learn more about the best ways to care for their children. Possible opportunities for a diaper brand manufacturer to promote its products include holding seminars on the importance of hygiene, inviting mothers, fathers, etc.
Also, with internet penetration in Nigeria increasing, webinars, or the formation of social groups, could help drive growth. Online sales via Jumia have boomed in Nigeria in the last few years. Perhaps that on its own is a good cue about the online possibilities for diaper brands to reach out to mothers via social media in Nigeria. Key African markets with increasing internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa include Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. South African brands have done well in this space and more mommy bloggers are entering the space to create platforms for mothers to share and get information and advice about looking after their babies and giving themselves the best possible chance to be great mothers.
Mothers are generally concerned about the hygiene and health of their babies and to some extent feel pressured by family and society to have a healthy baby. A chubby baby is generally a sign of good health in African custom, and physical appearance in general is another great indicator of whether the baby is healthy and happy. A clean healthy baby reflects on the reputation of the mother and her wider family.
Smaller pack sizes offer the advantage of smaller cash outlays, thereby promoting higher usage and they are also a key factor in purchase decisions, especially among the lower social economic class consumers. Disposable diapers, especially the popular brands, are a visual indication of good hygiene, which is an important aspect of good motherhood. As already mentioned, recommendations from family members and friends are among some of the most important drivers in brand selection.
Other parties such as health professionals hold some influence and are also important in promoting disposable diaper usage and can influence brand selection. Therefore having your rep calling on these health professionals may pay off for a brand owner. For lower socio-economic classes, there is a close association between disposable diapers and affluence or at the very least some value of aspirational achievement.
The majority of diaper purchases in Nigeria are smaller packs of three to 11 diapers. Economy and larger packs are bought by the higher socio-economic classes. Lower socio-economic classes do their grocery shopping on an ad-hoc basis, almost daily or every other day, governed by the level of their disposable income at any one time.
As the socio-economic class gets higher, one gets more planned schedules for grocery shopping and these are the occasions when they do their shopping for disposable diapers.
In the case of the neighborhood grocery shop, open markets or the supermarket, all the places that a mother visits to buy her disposable diapers, the shopkeeper has no influence at all on the choice of the disposable diaper purchased.
The neighborhood grocery shop is preferred for its convenience and here you can build a good relationship with the shopkeeper so that one is able to return any products if necessary, which is not a common practice in the market. In this type of shop the price is fixed and you cannot negotiate like you would at the market and the products are generally more trusted.
Buying disposable diapers from the open market, or the market as it is usually called, happens because the mother is already there to buy household items. One of the advantages of the market is that the prices are generally discounted below the price at neighborhood grocery or the supermarket. In some cases the mother only buys from a specific salesperson at the market that she knows and trusts and not just anyone. Not all products at the market are authentic.
The supermarket in the mall environment is by far the most trustworthy shopping environment. Prices are fixed and the choice and variety is wider. If you have children with you, it is easiest to shop here as well. This requires a special trip because normally the mall is usually a fair distance away. Lower socio-economic classes make frequent weekly purchases while higher SEC tend to buy in bulk packs, the key driver of this habit being the different levels of disposable income.
Open markets offer discounts but they are generally far from home and less trusted. Fake products also exist in this channel, posing a fair amount of risk. For the lower SEC, the neighborhood grocery store is the most important retail channel due to its proximity to home and the relationship with the shopkeeper. However, it is also possible that the trip to the mall, most likely at the end of the month, may mean that the mother buys the jumbo pack/economy pack, and reverts back to the weekly or daily purchases when this runs out. Understanding this level of detail and habits may also help a diaper brand owner to time their promotions to monthly at the end of the month in the mall, and perhaps end of the week at the neighborhood shop if you plan to drive volume.
The Nigerian Consumer
According to a 2017 Nielsen report, “Nigerian consumers have remained extremely optimistic in their outlook (scores above 100 indicate a positive outlook), despite the broader environmental pressures trickling through into their everyday lives. While the majority of consumers are hopeful for an improvement in their circumstances, they have had to adapt their spending patterns.”
It is during these times that one can expect the consumer to use cheaper options when there are no visitors, and the better brand when the visitors are present or when attending family gatherings, when social expectations must be met.
According to Nielsen’s “Navigating the new normal in Nigeria” report, consumers will continue to adopt different, category-specific tactics from shopping less frequently to reducing quantities (smaller packs or larger bulk packs if incomes permit), switching to cheaper brands or looking for better deals. Manufacturers and retailers will need to understand the various approaches to match the consumers’ needs with viable offerings.”
The growth of social media and online shopping, both of which are driven by internet penetration, offer an interesting development in the future of how diaper brands in Nigeria will engage the consumer and fight for their space in the consumer’s mind.