Sun, Jan 11, 2015 - Page 14 News List

Nigeria’s Cafe Neo: Hoping to become the African Starbucks

Inspired by the success of a local chain in India, the founders of the Lagos-based cafe aim to conquer Africa’s major cities with 100 percent African coffee before global brands try to capture the market

by Cecile de Comarmond  /  AFP, LAGOS

Baristas prepare coffee on Dec. 4 at a Cafe Neo store in Lagos.

Photo: AFP

Men in suits order takeaway cappuccinos at the counter. A trendy young crowd occupies comfortable sofas, armed with laptops for a brainstorming session over cafe lattes, frappuccinos and soft jazz.

The morning scene would not raise an eyebrow in New York, London or Paris, but cafe culture is a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s biggest city, where until recently finding a decent espresso was a battle.

The bright young things and senior managers were in Cafe Neo on Victoria Island in Lagos, which has been specifically designed to cater to the tastes of “repats.”

Ngozi Dozie and his brother Chijoke created the chain with returning Nigerians in mind, in the full knowledge that years spent abroad alter views, tastes and expectations.

Now the brothers hope to conquer Africa’s major cities with 100 percent African coffee before giants of the business such as Starbucks try to capture the market.

“The demand [in Lagos] is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee, but haven’t had access to coffee,” Ngozi Dozie said.

The “significant minority” have studied and worked abroad, coming back in their thousands from the US or Europe as austerity measures kicked in after the global financial crisis.

While they were away, Nigeria — already Africa’s most populous nation with about 170 million people — became the continent’s leading economy — and a country ripe with opportunity.

With economic growth has come an emerging middle class, which has increased sixfold to 4.1 million households between 2000 and last year, according to a recent study by Standard Bank.

A number of US chains such as KFC and Domino’s Pizza are already in Nigeria and increasingly popular, despite the astronomical costs of running a business in the country.

Poor or non-existent infrastructure forces businesses to rely on huge electricity generators to keep the lights on when the public supply goes off, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day.

The brothers’ idea is to first conquer the Nigerian market before Starbucks, which has more than 20,000 cafes in 65 countries across the globe, but none in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ngozi Dozie is not yet 40 and is himself a “repat.” Before embarking on the business venture, he knew friends who would bring back bags of coffee from the US.

He said he was inspired by India, where Cafe Coffee Day has largely cornered the market, despite the increasing presence of international chains such as Britain’s Costa Coffee or Starbucks.

“India is a fantastic example with Cafe Coffee Day,” he said. “We aim at something similar.

“We’re starting young right now and our aim is to grow as such that yes, Starbucks may come, but we want to be the choice of Nigerians, because there’s that affinity with something that comes from here, in Africa,” he said.

Neo currently has three cafes in Lagos and two others are scheduled to open early this year.

There is another outlet in Kigali. All the cafes only serve 100 percent Rwandan arabica, which has become one of its main selling points.

The chain is hoping to branch out across Africa and expects to have between 20 and 30 cafes in Lagos alone within the next four years.

“Neo, in Tswana, the language in Botswana, means ‘gift,’ and of course it also means ‘new’ in Latin,” Ngozi Dozie said.

“So, it’s a new way... a new approach to coffee, a new approach where we, as Africans, drink the coffee that we produce, that’s been a gift for us, as opposed to exporting it and importing sub-grade coffee,” he said.

This story has been viewed 2567 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top