Nigeria and the Consumer Goods Space: A 30,000-Foot Snapshot


Understanding the Nigerian shopper should yield dividends for consumer goods companies

by Vikash Khanna, MBA ‘15

During my internship with Unilever last summer, I had the privilege of working on a unique project in Personal Care which blended technology and innovation with market analysis and consumer insights. At the heart of my project was a focus on product potential in Sub-Saharan Africa—a region which is considered by many global FMCG companies these days as the “next investment frontier.” Africa’s long-term value proposition is quite compelling, when you consider that its consumer population is one billion strong, with purchasing power and brand awareness on the rise. And perhaps no market in Africa’s rapidly-advancing landscape is more exciting and more attractive to the consumer goods industry than Nigeria. In fact, as one CEO put it, “if companies do not have a Nigeria strategy, they do not really have an Africa strategy.”

The numbers behind Nigeria’s size and growth are truly spectacular. Nigeria’s population is by far the largest on the continent: one out of every five Sub-Saharan Africans is a Nigerian. Of all the countries that qualified in last summer’s FIFA World Cup, Nigeria has the fastest rate of population growth at 2.8% per annum. Nigeria also has the distinction of being Africa’s largest economy, officially surpassing South Africa last spring when the government released “rebased” GDP data. By 2030, Nigeria’s economy is projected to triple to $1.6 trillion—this entails an annual growth rate of around 7%—which would make it one of the top 20 economies in the globe.

There are a bundle of underlying drivers which make the Nigerian story especially appealing. Unlike some other emerging markets, Nigeria has a favorable demographic dividend. The country boasts the ninth-largest working-age (15 to 64) population, with a significant segment of that population consisting of young, middle-class, tech-savvy, aspirational consumers who are increasingly embracing Western brands. Urbanization is also a significant factor: today, close to 50% of all Nigerians live in urban centers (these include “megacities” such as Lagos); and by 2030, this figure is expected to be north of 60%. In addition, while street vendors and the informal sector still play a dominant role in the consumer economy, there has been a recent explosion of modern retail channels.

Nigeria outperforms its peers across a whole host of important categories. For example, according to the World Bank, the country ranks #1 in logistics performance for Sub-Saharan Africa. Within the Global Innovation Index, published by the Johnson School, et al., Nigeria is #1 in innovation efficiency for Sub-Saharan Africa. What is particularly revealing, from the perspective of competitors, is that Nigeria ranks #1 among all frontier markets on the investment watch-lists of major U.S. and European multinationals, according to the Frontier Strategy Group.

Source: Wall Street Journal and Frontier Strategy Group

Unlocking Nigeria’s growth potential is no easy task. Inadequate infrastructure, low skill development, and violence involving Islamic militant group Boko Haram are just some of the risks and challenges which persist on the ground. Also, a lot has happened in Nigeria since my internship which has changed the political and economic picture. For example, an incumbent president lost reelection for the first time ever, and lower oil prices have forced Nigeria, which is Africa’s #1 oil exporter, to undertake major fiscal and monetary adjustments. That said, the way forward remains bright for companies looking to capture value in Nigeria. Investing in tools to better understand the Nigerian shopper—i.e. his or her dynamic thinking and preferences—will pay major dividends.


  • Nigeria’s renewal: Delivering inclusive growth in Africa’s largest economy. McKinsey Global Institute Report, July 2014.
  • Hatch, Grant, et al. The Dynamic African Consumer Market: Exploring Growth Opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Accenture Report, 2011.
  • Keeler, Dan. “Nigeria, Argentina and Vietnam Prove Top Picks for Multinationals.” Wall Street Journal (Frontiers Blog), Jun 6, 2014.