Procter & Gamble is celebrating quarter-century milestones in both Kenya and Nigeria with an enhanced focus on localisation and continental enrichment
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Callam Waller
Despite enjoying a successful and lucrative presence in Africa for 50 years – and in East Africa for 25 – the Company has self-admittedly only become entirely localised in the region in more recent times. And with a concerted locally-driven enrichment initiative now firmly in place, the Company is striving to make its sustainability philosophy every bit as triumphant as its products have been.
Currently thriving across East and Central Africa with seven globally-renowned, leading consumer goods brands, much of P&G’s operations are driven out of Nairobi by a group of 850 direct and indirect employees from agencies, to distributors and a host of local business partners continue to share in the glory of one of international industry’s biggest names.
Products like Vicks, Always, Pampers, Ariel, Gillette, Pantene, Head and Shoulders, and Oral B are household names on every continent, of course, but the ability to make such esteemed international brands locally applicable is another challenge altogether.
The Company’s MD for East Africa, Vivek Sunder explains: “In some cases it has not just been about introducing a product but introducing a market concept. People will have been washing clothes with generic soap for years, so won’t have the same reaction to the idea of washing powder as in other markets. It’s the same with diapers too.
“It’s also a challenge therefore to understand their concerns and their pain points. In the UK or US, a wine stain or a grass stain may be a concern, whereas in Africa it almost certainly wouldn’t be, so the way we market products has to be different. Similarly, most consumers love the Ariel brand, but many in Africa may not be able to afford a one kilogram box of washing powder. So, instead, we offer smaller sachets to the market at an affordable price to more specifically meet the demographic and their needs.”
It certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all notion within the region either. The Nairobi office is the hub for P&G operations in Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Senegal, Angola, and Côte d’Ivoire. In each nation, there is once again either some market or consumer nuances or regulations to consider before launching a product; no matter how renowned the brand has become elsewhere.
To combat this challenge, P&G has paid increasingly concerted attention to aspects of localisation in each presence point, beginning with the most important facet: the Company’s people.
“I’d say the one aspect that characterises us in comparison to the many other good companies out there, is our long-term focus and drive for sustainability on a local scale,” Sunder emphasises. “We always look to hire local people from universities and then develop their skill-sets to complement their natural local understanding and expertise.
“They give us a local outlook, and we give them an understanding of how global companies can work. It’s a longer-term approach but it’s the better approach.”
The Consumer is Boss
As such, P&G has become one of the leading exporters of talent in the region. Even though this means losing individuals they’ve invested a lot of time into, the Company sees it as a positive statistic overall, in contributing to the wider enrichment of African industry.
And of course, there are still large swathes of people who go on to management positions within the Company too, helping to facilitate an enhanced local influence on P&G’s prime concern: its clients.
“It is far more important for us to say that we’ve produced the best talent in the market, than to say we’ve produced the best diaper in the market,” Sunder says. “And this helps to achieve our mantra that guides all our operations: ‘The Consumer is Boss’.
“This means that we must go to great lengths to reach the consumer, to understand them and to make products that deliver value to them. In turn, the consumer rewards us with market leadership.”
Buzzwords such as innovation are key to meeting this goal, but innovation is not just a buzzword at P&G. It is something that is genuinely practised and honed, courtesy of investments in research & development that reach $2 billion each year.
“Again, we believe that innovation starts with the consumer. We gain insights into their everyday lives so we can combine what’s needed with what’s possible,” Sunder explains. “Today we know that consumers are busy and so we ensure our products allow them to have a positive experience. For example our diaper brand, Pampers doesn’t need changing for up to 12 hours which allows babies to sleep undisturbed.
“Addressing digital trends, consumers can also buy our products via online platforms such as Jumia. We are leading the industry in this respect and our Pampers brand in particular is now acknowledged as one of the fastest selling online brands in Kenya.”
As a result of digitisation and general economic growth, the region’s retail segment is experiencing faster than average growth of late, which inevitably encourages more and more industry competitors to the forefront of the domain.
It is therefore vital for leaders like P&G to not just hone its products through innovation, but to also perfect internal facets, across capital expenditures, human resources and the supply chain.
Regarding the former, products, facilities, warehouses, storage, distribution channels and management processes are all upgraded on continuous cycles; each of these cycles intertwining strategically in order to ensure the best products, being unveiled at the right time, and to the correct specifications for each customer demographic.
On the aforementioned human resource front, procedures are similarly being improved upon each year so as to create heightened flexibility, entrepreneurialism, remuneration incentives and socially responsible perks for the workforce.
P&G consequently enjoys tremendously low attrition rates and staff turnover, emphasising an element of longevity that can also be found across the Company’s value chain.
“It’s more of a combination here where we can leverage the wider Company’s global partners, while obviously looking to partner locally from a supply chain perspective where possible,” Sunder states. “Through the local partnerships, we get a better understanding of local practices, local standards and local governance and are repaid with relationships that have been fostered over the course of 10-20 or even 25 years.”
Do the right thing
Taking one step further and the Company looks to instil itself deeper into community enrichment via an extensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy.
Sunder continues: “As a company we believe CSR activities are not just a good thing to do but the right thing to do. Examples include our Pampers Hygiene Education programme which has reached and educated more than three million new mothers who have given birth in private and public hospitals across Kenya.
“Another is the Always Puberty & Hygiene programme which continues to touch the lives of more than 100,000 girls with the provision of sanitary pads and underwear, as well as education.”
The Always Keeping Girls in School and the Children’s Safe Drinking Water programmes offer further evidence of healthcare and education commitments outside of P&G’s core product portfolio; while the Kibera Town Centre serves as a first-of-its kind community centre located in one of the region’s largest slums to provide support, amenities and services to the population.
“At P&G, integrity is one of our main principles. We ensure that we always do the right thing and even if this will lead to losses or delays we stick to the rules – no shortcuts,” Sunder emphasises. “Additionally though, we ensure that our products remain of high quality in the understanding that – no matter how cash strained the region is – they still want that renowned P&G quality.”