Africa’s largest retail chain, Shoprite, announced on Monday that it is considering divesting from its Nigerian retail entity, Retail Supermarkets Nigeria, the owners of Shoprite Supermarket Nigeria.
Shoprite Nigeria operates about 26 outlets across the country and employs about 2000 employees who are 99% Nigerians. A divestment means it will sell its holdings to another investor who will continue to run the business.
According to the company, it has taken a decision to leave “following approaches from various potential investors” looking to invest in the Nigerian entity. The group also said the decision is in line with its “re-evaluation of the Group’s operating model in Nigeria” one of the 15 countries where it currently operates.
Shoprite also confirmed it has initiated a formal process to sell its entire stake in the Nigerian entity or a majority stake.
Why the exit?
Shoprite’s explanation of its intention to divest from its Nigerian operations appears to be anchored on its investment expectation and operating environment. However, there could be more to it.
Firstly, Nigeria is a highly competitive space, where retail is the survival of the fittest. Following Shoprite’s foray into Nigeria in 2002, the retail chain disrupted Nigeria’s retail space giving ordinary Nigerians a taste of what it feels to shop with family and friends. But the fairy tale was not going to last forever. Previous retail outlets like Park n Shop rebranded and injected significant funds in their operations and business expansion. Park n Shop rebranded to Spar and has 14 outlets across the country. It only makes sense for them to divest having held on to the Nigerian operations for almost two decades.
Shoprite also competes with homegrown retail outlets especially in Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos State. Retail outlets like Ebeano, Citydia, and Adiba are now household names that are expanding rapidly across the state. There are also several neighbourhood supermarkets in the nooks and cranny of Nigeria’s commercial capital piling pressure on Shoprite’s market share. Shoprite does not disclose revenues from its Nigerian operations.
Shopping is also going online as evidenced by the growth in online shopping since COVID-19 hit Nigeria. Jumia, one of Nigeria’s largest online retail outlets, revealed lower earnings in the first quarter of 2020. However, the company is optimistic of higher revenue growth in Q2, on the back of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Jumia had earlier noted that “we are seeing unprecedented demand to join the Jumia platform, especially for named brands. We believe those dynamics will help accelerate the shift toward online.”
Local competitors like Spar and Ebeano already offer online shopping experiences and deliver goods to your doorstep. Shoprite’s business model relies heavily on physical store visits.
As internet services become faster and cheaper, more Nigerians will rely on e-commerce to meet their shopping needs. Jumia has often struggled in this space and remains unprofitable. However, gravitation towards online shopping is inevitable and only those who have the capital and know-how will come out winners.
Jumia’s competitor in this space, Konga, was also recently acquired by Zinnox. Konga was then merged with another Nigerian retail giant Yudula. Interestingly, Konga’s model includes a combination of online and brick and mortar. The company has since been acquiring warehouses across the country as delivery points for its retail expansion drive.
Nigeria’s harsh operating environment is also another major challenge Shoprite faces. The Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, through the CBN, has focused on supporting locally made goods by banning forex availability for the importation of local substitutes. This has negatively impacted the number of products Shoprite can sell and how many new shelves it can create per floor space. It also creates supply chain challenges, especially with locally produced goods.
Note that supermarkets sell on very thin margins. Therefore, the more products they can sell the higher the operating profits. Taxes are also higher and Nigeria’s susceptibility to exchange rate devaluation is also a major challenge. The company makes money in Naira and must convert to dollars before converting back to Rands.
In 2017, when Nigeria last faced a currency crisis, Shoprite explained that it has about Rand 2.3 billion in cash locked up in Angola and Nigeria due to currency restrictions (inability to repatriate their money on time). Information reaching Nairametrics from traders suggest most foreign-owned investments in Nigeria are also facing “restrictions” due to limited liquidity in the NAFEX window.
Shoprite’s less talked challenge is its Legal Issues. In 2011, Nigerian company A.I.C Limited (the Claimant), which is owned by Chief Henry Akande, issued a summons against Shoprite South Africa and its Nigerian subsidiary for an alleged breach of a joint venture agreement (the JV Agreement) allegedly concluded in 1998. The company took Shoprite to court claiming it breached on an agreement to set up the Nigerian arm of the business.
The Federal High Court then ruled in favour of AIC and awarded damages of $10 million against Shoprite in 2017. Shoprite appealed the judgment in the appeal court and lost again earlier in 2020. It is unclear if Shoprite has any plans to take the matter up to the Supreme Court. Could this be another reason why the owners are deciding to divest?
Whatever the reason is, officially, it perhaps makes sense for the company to exit its Nigerian operations in the light of the points mentioned above. Its Nigerian entity is worth 1.1 billion Rands (N24 billion) per its financial statements and could be worth more when the sale is eventually consummated.