Africa’s most important economy but also a land of huge income inequality, South Africa is undeniably a land of great potential for the Greek F&B sector, especially the premium, high quality food, wine and spirits. Ms. Christina Stefanidou, Counselor of Economy and Trade at the Johannesburg Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs, of the Greek Embassy in South Africa, talks to Ambrosia Magazine about the potential of the South African Market and initiatives concerning the Greek F&B sector, and how all the positive feedback, along with the currently low export rate, reveal a truly great opportunity for our country.

Interview: Charitomeni Vonta

What are the biggest challenges for companies who want to do business in South Africa?
Welcome to South Africa, the land of great contrasts, the most industrialized country in Sub-Saharan Africa, estimated by the IMF that in 2024 to emerge as the most important economy in all of Africa. At the same time, it ranks at the top of the global list of countries with the greatest income inequality. As great the existing contrasts in its economic and social environment as they may be, the opportunities that arise for businesses that will want to be active in it systematically, within the framework of a strategy that will focus on specific target groups, are equally important.
In the food sector, we find highly concentrated and vertically organized mature distribution channels, with four super-market chains controlling more than 60% of the retail market. The competition among them is particularly intense with highly differentiated strategies, to maintain or even increase their shares, maneuvering within an environment rich in contrasts, especially regarding their customers’ income.

With official unemployment at 32.1% in the last quarter of 2023 and youth unemployment (ages 15-34) at 44.3%, a large part of the population serves its food needs through “spazarettes” (distribution channel which operates mainly in non-urban and deprived areas).
Demand for food imports across sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to continue growing over the next 10 years, mainly due to population growth (which in South Africa in 2022 grew by 0.8%). Combined with the estimated growth rate of 3.8% for 2024 (IMF), there are positive conditions for Greek F&B exports, as long as the target group is defined.
In addition, the presence and activity of Greek export companies in South Africa is a basic condition for expansion in southern and Sub-Saharan Africa. Let us add that: i. South Africa accounts for 90% of the total space of sub-Saharan African shops, ii. four of the world’s largest retail companies (in terms of sales turnover) operate here, importing large quantities of food for domestic consumption and distribution to other African countries, iii. another, perhaps, useful fact is that 43% of the 345 large African companies (turnover of more than 1 billion dollars per year) are based in South Africa, of which 70% are active in six sectors, including retail.

Which Greek products have the greatest potential and how their dynamics improve ?
In this highly competitive and exuberant environment, high-quality, premium Greek foods have the potential to be placed on the market, as long as they choose the appropriate target group (upper medium and higher).
In addition, we note that in South Africa there is the possibility of entering the market through partnerships with the Greek business Community (Diaspora), which is active in the catering and privately owned retail sales sectors (eg. Spar members).
We believe that the design and development of a cooperative business model (e.g. a Procurement Group), which would direct Greek food in the premium, exclusive and delicatessen categories, to the said business community, serving its needs (gathering and distributing the corresponding quantities, achieving low costs of transport and logistics services, providing service consistently etc.), would contribute to an increase in Greek F&B exports to the South African market and could have significant chances of entrepreneurial success.
As in any non-EU market, cooperation with local partners is a key factor for successful market entry. In the case of South Africa, the existing Greek Diaspora business potential is a comparative advantage for our country.

What are the best selling Greek F&B in South Africa?
According to the 2023 statistics, Greek F&B exports to South Africa amounted to only 9 million euros, corresponding to 9% of our total exports to the country, slightly decreasing by 0.6% compared to 2022. The total value is particularly small, and we believe there is significant room for growth. The picture is complete if we consider that in 2023 Greece imported food from South Africa worth 43 million euros, making for 36% of our total imports from the country, a 33% rise compared to 2022.
The product with the highest Greek exports in 2023 was fresh kiwifruit (€1.4m) and this is probably due to a Greek kiwifruit promotion program, carried out in 2016 and supported by the EU.
In terms of value, the second product was concentrated fruit juices (1.3 million euros) and the third was olives (0.8 million euros), followed by chocolate and chocolate products (0.8 million euros), extra virgin olive oil (0.5 million euros), canned tomatoes (0.4 million euros), cherries (0.4 million euros), various food preparations (0.3 million euros) etc.
Particularly regarding olive oil, South Africa is systematically developing olive-tree cultivation, consumer attitude is gradually changing in favor of olive oil use and it is estimated that 80% of the current demand is met by imports.
We should add that, in general, the South Africans’ eating habits include meat (90% of the population) with chicken (and eggs) taking first place (as an important, yet affordable source of protein). Price plays a great role, since average income is still under pressure in South Africa, due to high inflation (in the case, of course, we refer to middle and low income category).

Please share with us some targeted actions taken to improve the position of Greek F&B in South Africa.
Our Office, as the only Economic and Commercial Affairs Office in Sub-Saharan Africa, covers five more southern African countries (Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho) and has already collaborated with the Consulate General at Johannesburg, in two promotional events of selected Greek wines to Sommeliers, High-end restaurants and Resorts in Johannesburg. The positive response and the high level of interest are indicative of the potential of premium Greek wines to enter the South African market.
Also recently (30.04.2024) a fam trip of South African representatives of major Tour Operators was completed in Athens and Crete, in order to support the strengthening of tourist flows from South Africa to Greece on the one hand and to promote Greek gastronomy and culture on the other. Again, the feedback we received from the participants was particularly positive, especially regarding wine gastronomy.

What would you say is the greatest asset of Greek F&B in South Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is changing at a particularly rapid pace, in the hopes of consolidating a position in the global processed products trade. Greece enjoys the advantages of the EU – South Africa Agreement, within the framework of the European Partnership Agreement / EPA with the South African Development Community /SADC countries, which ensures, among other things, duty-free market access (for the vast majority of products). The Agreement is under evaluation to clarify its impact on transactions between the two parties.
However, a very important and critical development is taking place, which we believe will affect trade between the two sides in the near future: The gradual implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area / AfCFTA, (which has two main objectives: i. the strengthening of intra-African trade and ii. domestic industrialization), estimated to drastically change the trade landscape. Indicative of the changes taking place is that 2023 was the first year that African countries as a whole emerged as the most important South African export destination (27% of all product exports, not only food).
Already, South Africa on 31.01.2024 exported its first cargo to Ghana and Kenya, applying reduced / zero duties. From 01.04.2024, Botswana also started, while Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho have submitted a common tariff to the AfCFTA Secretariat, which has been accepted and they are expected to start soon as well. Seven more countries (Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tunisia) are already implementing the Agreement (tariff reduction).
Concluding, we estimate that there are significant opportunities for Greek F&B exports to South Africa (and the wider region), despite the existing sharp contrasts and market difficulties, in the premium category, since a part of the population is able and willing to consume high quality food, which will be providing a feeling of exclusiveness.

Greek Embassy in Pretoria
Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs in Johannesburg
261 Oxford Rd, Illovo Sandton 2196, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tel +27 11 214 2300
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