• RCS Ottawa

The grocery chain that became Africa’s biggest retailer by betting on its middle class


Just as Freedom Park, south of Johannesburg, completed its transition from a shanty town to a lower middle class neighborhood with electricity, piped water, and tarred roads; a spanking new Shoprite store opened up in November, with its distinct bright red and white logo and brand livery.

This strategy to seek out Africa’s growing middle class consumers, in places its competitors have yet dared to venture, has helped drive Shoprite’s rapid expansion in the last decade. The food retailer has expanded from eight poorly performing stores worth 1 million rand in 1979 (around $1.2 million then), to become Africa’s largest retail chain, worth 113.7 billion rand ($8.5 billion) today.

Shoprite’s mushrooming from a corner in South Africa’s Cape to 2,214 stores (and counting) in countries across the continent was led by longtime CEO James Wellwood Basson, known everywhere as Whitey (a childhood nickname on account of his pale blond, now gray hair, that has stuck despite South Africa’s racial issues). Basson is a big personality with an even bigger paycheck whose sheer determination took Shoprite across Africa, while the group’s competitors took too long to realize the continent’s retail potential, or just used the wrong strategy. Full Story


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