‘Webrooming’ widespread in consumer food purchasing decisions across Africa

With 55 independent states, Africa is the world’s second most populous continent and is home to a diverse population of consumers with regional tastes, religions and languages. An increasing workforce has led to a growth in GDP and consumer expenditure, and a rise in out of home food consumption. With multiple trends and influencers, the region has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities for businesses operating in the area.


In particular, the continent’s millennial population is on the rise and is expected to command over 20 per cent of the world’s population by 20251. As food manufacturers and retailers look to tap into this burgeoning market, consideration must be given to the growing influence of this group of tech-savvy, mobile-first consumers. They are influenced by different concerns and experiences, and understanding their buying behaviours will be critical to building meaningful brand relationships.

The region’s high mobile penetration has resulted in the growing influence of technology on consumer buying habits. In fact, consumers across Africa are ahead of their western counterparts when it comes to using technology to better understand what goes into their food. The latest consumer insights from Ingredion* (which included consumers in South Africa and Kenya), show that the practice of scrutinising ingredient lists and verifying nutritional claims online before buying – also known as webrooming – is increasingly common. In the region, 59% of respondents said they are already using mobile apps to research the nutritional information of food and drink products when shopping.

Technology is playing a decisive role in the continuing trend towards greater transparency within the food and drink industry. Used in-store, mobile apps enable consumers to change their mind about a product at the point of purchase and this has significant implications for how manufacturers think about formulation in terms of ingredient recognition, ingredient lists and front-of-pack claims. Busy lifestyles are also having an impact. As more people turn to online shopping in the home or at the office, checking what goes into a product is becoming easier. The research also showed that over a third (35 per cent) of consumers in Africa look at product information online at home too.

Consumers are increasingly interested in what goes into their food and where it comes from. Combine this with technological developments and the ability to verify product information on the spot, 24/7 and it’s clear that the era of the savvy purchaser and smarter shopping is here to stay. For product development teams and marketers, it is no longer enough to have a label that looks good. It goes beyond simply attracting shoppers to pick up a product or put it in a virtual shopping basket. Technology means that consumers are actively researching and becoming more aware of issues such as low-fat alternatives potentially being higher in sugar or salt.


This has an impact on how food manufacturers approach their new product development and recipe formulation or reformulation. Ingredient replacement cannot compromise the nutritional value of a product, it is about exploring ways to find a clean label solution that is both affordable and maintains, or even boosts, its nutritional profile. Food manufacturers across Africa need to take a more transparent approach to ensure that ingredient lists and claims meet consumer expectations. This, in turn, will offer them more incentive to buy.

Where should manufacturers focus their development? Consumers identify healthier, fresh-tasting and nutritious new products as their top priorities for food manufacturers. Nutrition is so important to consumers, 52 per cent of respondents wouldn’t compromise on it even if a cheaper product were available. However, product quality also matters. When formulating new products or adapting recipes to boost nutritional profiles, the overall taste, texture and stability cannot be compromised or consumers will look elsewhere for great-tasting, healthier alternatives. Despite a growth in online shopping, traditional retail outlets including street markets and kiosks and traditional stores still dominate retailing experiences in the region. It is therefore essential that product development teams need to overcome the current perception that creating healthier products has resulted in products with a shorter shelf life.

To see the full ‘Food That Just Clicks’ Africa infographic and research report go to https://go.ingredion.com/consumer-trends-infographic-africa.

1 Euromonitor International, Shifting Market Frontiers: Africa Rising, March 2018

*The research was carried out by MMR on behalf of Ingredion in September 2017. A total of 100 consumers in Kenya and 105 in South Africa took part in the survey.

AUTHOR: Constantin Drapatz, Business Development Manager for Ingredion Africa

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