Millennials Thrive, Champagne Producers Join the Party in Ivory Coast

Young African markets are attracting retailers catering to a more buoyant mood

Asalfo (L), the leader of the Ivorian ba
Photographer: Kambou Sia/AFP via Getty Images

There are few things that people from Ivory Coast enjoy more than a night out with champagne, music, and big cigars.

Champagne sales have soared in the West African nation, making it the fastest-growing market for bubbly in Africa. Sales almost tripled between 2011 and 2014 to 211,103 bottles, according to the Comite Champagne, a trade association based in Epernay, France. And judging from the latest estimates, sales grew 65 percent again last year, according to Taittinger SA, a champagne producer that recently outlined its plans for African expansion at a festive reception in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan.

A bottle of champagne in Ivory Coast starts at about 22,500 francs ($38) and can cost as much as about 120,000 francs ($200) — not exactly a cheap buy in a country that had per-capita income of $1,319 in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. But that isn't deterring consumers.

"Champagne is flowing like water in Ivory Coast," said Vincent Voisin, Africa and Middle East export director of Grands Chais de France, one of France’s leading exporters of wines and spirits. "Ivorians like to party, and women are consuming more and more. It’s become an affordable luxury, with a growing middle class that’s got the money to have a good time," Voisin said in an interview in Abidjan.

With aging populations in Europe and subdued growth, more consumer companies are turning to rapidly expanding economies in Africa, where young people constitute a majority. Champagne sales are declining in the European Union and have hardly changed in the past decade in the U.S. Africa will be the fastest-growing market for beer and other alcoholic drinks in the next four years, according to London-based market researchers such as IWSR and Canadean.

Recovering from a protracted decade-long conflict that culminated in a bloody battle for Abidjan in 2011, Ivory Coast is benefiting from rapid urbanization, an expanding middle class and changing demographics. Out of a population of 23 million, 59 percent is younger than 25 years, and more than a third is of working age, between 25 and 54 years.

Nigeria, which has Africa’s biggest population of more than 170 million, still tops the ranks of biggest buyers of champagne on the continent, followed by South Africa.

Four consecutive years of rapid economic growth in Ivory Coast have translated into a 20 percent rise in per-capita income, according to the IMF. Last year, the economy’s expansion was estimated at 8.6 percent, more than twice the average in sub-Saharan Africa. The government is forecasting growth of at least 9 percent this year.

But there’s more going on than just changing demographics. Ivorians have a reputation among West Africans for their fun-loving nature, trendsetting music and fashion scene.

The recovery has also lured back citizens who fled the crisis to countries including France, Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler. Among those who have returned are many highly educated, independent-minded women ages 30 to 35, bringing with them a predilection for quality foreign brands, according to Ranie-Didice Bah, an economist at Ivory Coast’s Labor Ministry.

"These women are accustomed to certain foods and certain clothing," she said by phone. "And it’s they who fuel local demand for the foreign brands you see springing up in Abidjan, ranging from champagne to supermarket chains to bakeries."

—With assistance from  Baudelaire Mieu in Abidjan.

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