We hear a lot about how McDonald’s and other fast food chains can now be found in essentially every corner of the world, but the question we had was, does this form of 21st century globalization also apply to Africa? It turns out that Africa has only fairly recently developed a taste for fast food, but now that love affair is set to take off. According to the market research company Euromonitor, fast food chains in Africa grew 3-4 percent annually between 2009 and 2014. Steady growth numbers such as these have made many people in the business world take a closer look at the food service sector in Africa. This blog post will look at what a possible expansion of fast food will mean for Africans. We will look at the types and prevalence of fast food as well as the disparities in fast food by region. We will then take a small dive into the economic, religious, and health effects of fast food in Africa as well as what an increase in fast food will do for Africa’s relationship with the global west and how Africa perceives countries like the United States.
The number one reason for the recent growth in fast food in Africa is the fact that Africa has a growing middle class. In many places in Africa, there are just now enough people with disposable income to support a fast food restaurant. On top of that, in many urban areas the lifestyle has undergone a number of changes and now more than ever, more Africans are on the go and in need of a quick meal. Dionne Searcey, the West and Central African bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote a piece in 2017 about how she has been amazed by how much fast food has grown in the past couple of years. Her major takeaway was that Africans seem to love the American diet regardless of whether or not the food came from an American chain, or a newly_opened African knockoff.
Fast food is not really anything new for some parts of Africa. In fact, fast food has had a strong presence in South Africa for quite some time. In a sense, the Republic of South Africa is ground zero for fast food entering the continent. In 2013 KFC was already well established, with 771 outlets in South Africa and others that were popping up across the region of southern Africa. Other parts of Africa, such as West Africa and East Africa, are just now starting to see fast food chains come in. Elias Shulze, a managing partner at the Africa Group said that Nigeria and Kenya are the two best candidates for growth in the fast food sector because both countries have an emerging middle class and a strong private sector already in place.
The strongest motivating factor for the growth of fast food in the changing African economy. According to Credit Suisse, there are now 20 million African adults who are considered to be in the middle class. While this is only a little more than 3 percent of Africa’s total population, the African middle class has doubled in the last decade and is expected to grow at the fastest rate in the world by the Development Bank. Read more here on the African middle class. All of the growth that has already happened and the future growth that is projected has attracted many investors and developers, and it seems like fast food companies are poised to win big in Africa.
American-styled cuisine has been altered slightly to account for certain religious dietary habits in Africa. Thirty-three fast food restaurant chains in Africa offer some kind of halal offerings, even American chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC. There are even some fast food chains that are owned by Muslims and serve traditional Lebanese or Indian food using the fast food model.
The rapid introduction of fast food and the American-style diet into Africa has had several negative health effects for the population. A World Health Organization study found that the childhood obesity rate has surged in the last 25 years, and the number of obese children on the continent has almost doubled. At a more local level, the numbers are even more startling. For instance, in Ghana obesity rates surged 650 percent since the first KFC came in 1980, going from 2 percent of the Ghanaian population to over 13 percent. In the United States today there is a lot of pressure on fast food chains to fall in line with healthier food practices, and many chains have responded by offering healthier option. In African fast food restaurants, however, healthier options are rarely or never offered. The prevalence of the American diet has not just led to an increase in obesity; it has also led to an increase in several related diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. This has put a strain on Africa’s health systems, which are designed to deal with communicable diseases such as malaria or HIV/AIDS and are now having trouble handling the influx of preventable diseases. In the United States, it is now a widely-known fact that junk food is bad for you and consuming it in large quantities can have detrimental health outcomes. In Africa, that information is not as clear. For more information on this issue check out the following links: https://qz.com/africa/1094112/obesity-diabetes-rises-africa-thanks-to-fast-food/ https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-12/american-fast-food-chains-are-invading-africa https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/health/ghana-kfc-obesity.html“McDonald’s Hits the World”
Globalization is not just a one-way street. It is clear that American food culture has had a large influence on Africans. However, while this is happening, African culture is making its way into American culture on the African continent. Most chains have altered their menus to include more local flavors. There are Pizza Huts in West Africa serving jollof rice as a topping on pizza, and many restaurants offer African food alongside American staples like a burger or chicken nuggets. Even though most of the fast food restaurants are owned by large brands based in the United States and Europe, quite a few local restaurants are owned by Africans but serve American food. There is even one instance of one of these African chains taking a trip in the opposite direction over the Atlantic Ocean. Chesa Nyama, a South African BBQ chicken chain, has been very successful in Africa and recently released plans to open a new restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. It should be noted that the Chesa Nyama story is an outlier and not the norm. For more information on how globalization can work the other way, check out these links: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-12/american-fast-food-chains-are-invading-africa
The success of the American-styled fast food industry in Africa can be largely attributed to the existing perceptions that Africans had about the West. In many ways, these chains had gotten decades of free advertising through movies, TV shows, and other types of media that featured food like pizza and burgers. On top of all this free press, fast food chains were able to take full advantage of the long-held belief that Western culture and consumer goods were seen as a sign of class. If you are eating American food, you are associated with a higher class within society. Fast food has also benefited from the globalization of technology and the internet. Many multinational fast food chains have become very effective of advertising via social media sites such as Facebook. Africans, especially kids and young adults, are exposed to these kinds of restaurants and their American food. Showing Africans that their peers in America are eating fast food makes Africans want some too. The interesting thing is that the very thing that Africans hold up as being superior and belonging to a higher class is also causing major health risks. Time will only tell if the fast food trend can be transformed into a continual growth for the sector in Africa.
For a look at one interesting South African chain that sells “North American” food, check out Spur Steak Ranches. Notice how their entire idea of North American food is based off of stereotypes.