Thomas White Global Investing
Morocco Stamp
May 22, 2009
A Postcard from Africa
Morocco: Supermarkets Thrive Despite a Recession

Spices in Marrakesh store

As Morocco grows, multinational chains like BIM are betting on its continued expansion. Although traditional open market shops still hold sway, the retail industry in Morocco is poised for takeoff.

Despite the looming sickness of the global recession, the Moroccan retail industry has never had it so good. Earlier this year, Carrefour Hypermarket, the European giant, opened its first store in the country in Salé, near the capital city of Rabat. And not to be outdone, just last week, Turkish low-cost retailer, BIM, made a dramatic foray into the Morocco supermarket arena, stating it would open 40 stores across the country this year with an investment of $63 million. The first store is to be opened as early as next month.

Clearly, the good times are rolling in Morocco, and multinational companies, starved of profits in struggling recession-hit Europe or North America, are desperate for newer horizons. Retail is not a small bite either in the Moroccan economic landscape. The industry contributes around 12.8% to Morocco’s gross domestic product (GDP), and employs more than a million people, or around 13% of the country’s total workforce. Competition is intensifying, prompting local giants like Marjane and Acima to tie up in an effort to jostle for supremacy.

In the midst of it all, one can also see a curious culture change in Moroccan society. Moroccans, long accustomed to shopping in traditional small grocery stores, are now slowly shifting to the ultra-hip, trendy and convenience-at-all-costs culture that mega supermarkets and hypermarkets promote.

Today, there are around 200 supermarkets and 17 hypermarkets in Morocco. Yet, this is a shift that is more gradual than dramatic. What the mega supermarket chains are banking on is the continued growth of the Moroccan economy, which is expected to grow 4.4% this year, healthy compared to the -3.8% contraction forecast by the International Monetary Fund for advanced economies. That growth translates into a growing middle class with more spending power, and greater disposable income.

Yet, a large percentage of Morocco’s population still relies on the thousands of souks, markets, and independent groceries for their daily shopping needs. Although the big cities such as Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Rabat are thriving, almost 45% of the rural populace of Morocco would probably have never heard of Carrefour. That is the challenge that Carrefour, BIM, Metro and others will face. The potential is there – there are 31 million Moroccans – and it is precisely that potential that is attracting these international giants. But to change an established pattern of consumption is an entirely different story.


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