The Changing Marketplace: The Rise of Supermarkets in West Africa

September 12, 2013
Marketplaces have always been a central part of everyday life in West African society. The traditional marketplace has been a center for selling goods, communing, and entertainment. However, because of globalization and urbanization, two new features—supermarkets and street trading—are redefining the nature of the traditional West African marketplace.

An emerging middle class with purchasing power is attracting foreign direct investment in retailing, and is giving rise to modern supermarkets. This trend is being bolstered by the desire of many African cities to modernize. New shopping malls are being built across the region, with a combination of public and private funds; and global supermarket chains are being sought as anchor clients. This is giving rise to a supermarket revolution.

But while a retail boom is taking place inside supermarkets, another related boom is occurring in the streets of West Africa’s expanding cities, as millions of unemployed people seek a livelihood in street trading. This phenomenon has grown so rapidly that it is overwhelming determined efforts of city authorities to curb it. Today, the majority of all new jobs in the region are being created in street trading. Though these jobs typically support subsistence, street trading is becoming an accepted reality of the region’s marketplace and we are now seeing entrepreneurs starting to leverage it. In Ghana, a sophisticated catering truck is changing the nature of food vending. It is also becoming globalized as foreign manufacturers, especially Chinese, integrate street traders into their distribution chains.

This issue explores the future of the West African marketplace. In the first article, we look at the emerging supermarket revolution and its impact. In the second article, we explore how supermarkets are incorporating small-scale farmers in their supply chains. The third article looks at how street trading is evolving in the region.

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