As the population of African immigrants settling in the Western world has continued to rise, so has the demand for African ethnic products and services. Anything from essentials such as food and clothing to entertainment, beauty products, and hairdressing; you name it, if it is something neo-African diasporans miss from “back home”, you can bet there is a growing market for it. Where demand rises, supply is sure to follow suit.
Though supply lags, we are seeing a steady increase in the number of businesses catering to African immigrants in the West. This includes grocery stores such as Asarco International Food Store, restaurants such as Braai Hut, hair salons such as Urembo Instincts, photography services such as Iska Jojo Studios, and fashion wear shops such as Doors to Africa. This emerging class of African-oriented businesses caters not only to neo-African diasporans but also to Westerners who relish “that African vibe”. Despite the upward trend, not much is known regarding the factors and dynamics driving the growth of the African ethnic market.
At Neo African Diaspora, we seek to generate a deeper understanding of the factors and dynamics affecting the well-being of African immigrants in the Western world. We are keen to share our observations and invite others to pitch in as we script our immigrant story. Here is what we have noticed so far about African ethnic markets.
Not a Single Block
The African Ethnic market is as diverse as the number of nationalities represented within the neo-African diaspora population. Most businesses focus on serving a specific segment of the African market based on their ability to source products and the connections they have to the targeted ethnicity of African immigrants. As a result, you will find Ethiopian businesses in locations where there is a high concentration of Ethiopians and the same goes for other nationalities. Although businesses may seek to blend products from across various countries to capture a wider market, the specialization makes it tricky to find everything under one roof. It also means the market served is smaller which limits the opportunity for growth.
Among the most visible change has been the growth in the number of grocery stores specializing in African products. Most of the stores stock products from West African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Senegal. Similarly, there are also many African restaurants specializing in West African food. Ethiopian is also a significant market segment, and it seems the unique nature of the culture, coupled with the size of the population drives the robustness of ethnic markets. Food products vary but because of the distance, most of them are dried products. The fresh food market for African foods remains very limited.
Beauty & Entertainment
Another area where we are seeing significant growth is beauty and fashion including hairdressing and African attires. African hairdressing is particularly special because it provides a safe space for immigrants in the West to be African. Things don’t get lost in translation as you try to explain how you want your hair done. Hair salons also allow the added plus of impromptu meetups with fellow neo-African diasporans. The entertainment scenery includes clubs, and DJs but also places that host weddings and other festivities. Photography services are another growing area. Referrals are critical to making it in the beauty and entertainment market. With African immigrants doing relatively well economically, we expect to see tremendous growth in this sector.
As the market for African ethnic products and services grows, entrepreneurs of different backgrounds are capitalizing on the demand. It is not just Africans who are running the ethnic African market, we find African products sold at Indian and Hispanic stores. An overlap exists in the taste for food across immigrant groups from tropical countries. Indians are well established in the food market and some of their food products are similar to what Africans prefer. This puts them in a good position to serve the African population.
Standards & Prices
Bringing in goods from Africa to serve the African ethnic market requires adherence to Western quality regulatory standards. Although ethnic markets are not heavily regulated, they still have to meet minimum consumer protection standards. Often, this means that the goods imported into Western countries from Africa are of the highest premium. It also means that products cost more and in fact, it is quite costly to be buying African ethnic products on a regular basis. Neo-African diasporans tend to consume the good in small measures and on special occasions to get around the cost.
As the buying power of African immigrants grows, we are also an increase in the number of farms producing African ethnic products, especially green leafy vegetables such as Amaranthus and goat meat. Some of the farmers are African but there is also a growing number of non-Africans delving into the market. For example, in Minnesota, the Hmong community supplies African vegetables to African immigrants in the area with others coming from other states to buy fresh produce. Farming African ethnic products will continue to be a lucrative trade to counter the high cost of importation. Unfortunately, fresh produce is seasonal so you cannot get too attached. African immigrants are increasingly producing their own ethnic vegetables in their backyard gardens during the summer. Others are keeping goats for sale to fellow immigrants in what is a rewarding trade if you can time the market right.
At Neo African Diaspora, we are excited to see the growth of the African ethnic market. We celebrate the entrepreneurs serving this market and that’s why we established a database to create awareness about businesses that sell African stuff as well as service providers targeting the African market. If you come across an African-owned, operated, or African-serving business spread the word by submitting an entry in our database.
While we have shared some observations, we know there is a wealth of perspectives out there regarding the evolution and functioning of the African ethnic market in the West. We’ve highlighted some examples in the US but we are curious to know how the market is evolving in other Western countries. As usual, we welcome you to share your views on this topic by submitting comments below or hitting us up on social media.
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