Cote d'Ivoire: Shopping in Abidjan's 'Yop City'

Abidjan.

A new mall in Cote d'Ivoire's capital aiming to attract the lower middle-class has seen more than 623,000 people through its doors since opening in October. The Cosmos mall in Abidjan's Yopougon area hopes to open up the shopping centre experience to Ivorians with less means that the typical rich clientele targeted by many African malls.

"It's really the first one that went into a frontier market," says Cheick Sanankoua, the co-founder of HC Capital Properties, which led investment in the 26 million euro project.

Existing malls in Cote d'Ivoire target affluent neighbourhoods, but the Cosmos development is trying to appeal to a different demographic, Sanankoua told RFI in an interview. "It's not a question of can people afford it, but instead shifting the way people consume," says the 35-year-old Ivorian.

The two-storey Yopougon mall boasts foreign brands such as Carrefour, Burger King, Orange and MTN as tenants. But it is also trying to bring in smaller local store owners as well as informal traders, according to Sanankoua, "to help them bring their business to the next level".

Yopougon itself is home to more than one million people making it one of the country's largest metropolitan areas, according to the 2014 census. The area, colloquially known as Yop City, is seen as middle-to-working-class people in terms of demographics. HC Capital Properties says the development will create 750 permanent jobs plus more than 900 jobs in the informal sector.

The mall features a space designed to replicate a market type environment for informal traders, says Sanankoua, who previously worked at US bank Merrill Lynch and Helios Investment Partners, a private equity firm focusing on Africa. It offers more flexible terms for leases and smaller kiosks designed to appeal to smaller businesses.

Demand for malls on the African continent

Malls on the African continent doubled between 2011 and 2018, says a report published in November by Sagaci Research, a market research firm. And the continent hosts almost 580 shopping malls.

International real estate company Knight Frank in 2016 described the sub-Saharan market for shopping malls as a "major focus for development". Space for shopping centres in Cote d'Ivoire was set to more than double from 61,000 square metres to 138,000 square metres, according to the Knight Frank's analysis of mall real estate and projects in the pipeline.

Investment case

African consumers' appetite for mall shopping from has not been lost on international investors. HC Capital Properties, which has offices in London and Abidjan, financed the Cosmos mall through investment by private equity and large institutional investors as well as family offices.

Cosmos is HC Capital Properties' first major property development and they have a number of other potential projects in West and Central Africa, according to Sanankoua.

Other companies have taken a different approach to raising cash for mall investments. The Real Estate Income Group (GRIT) floated on the London Stock Exchange in July 2018 raising 115 million euros with retail forming a key part of its strategy for investment in African property assets. Since being established in 2014, GRIT has acquired stakes in malls operating in Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique and Zambia.

The shopping landscape in Cote d'Ivoire is at the level where the Nigerian market was at four or five years ago, says Sanankoua, making comparisons with Africa's most populous country. And the evolution of shopping malls in Cote d'Ivoire will depend largely on how they adjust to local tastes and "tweak" the shopping experience for the Ivorian market.

"The feedback we're getting is retailers are doing very well," says Sanankoua. "We spent as much time vetting tenants as they spent vetting us," he adds, explaining how they targeted certain retailers to ensure a mix of local stores and established international brands.

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