RETAILING in Zimbabwe is moving gradually towards maturity and sophistication with some shops extending their brands to rural parts of the country. The recent opening of a new TM Supermarket outlet in Mutoko is spurring a silent supermarket revolution which is redefining Zimbabwe’s retailing landscape.
The entrance into rural Mutoko by TM brought smiles to rural shoppers and jolted traditional grocery store owners who are beginning to feel the squeeze. Teachers, doctors, nurses and other professionals working in and around Mutoko were excited with the new retailing format, products and services which were introduced, catering to the demands of the discerning consumers.
Smallholder farmers and residents at Mutoko say the opening of the supermarket would stabilise prices, giving them something to celebrate about. “This is a positive development for us. It will stabilise prices. The US dollar is hard to get and when you get it, you want to spend it wisely and buy from shops where prices are relatively cheaper,” says Chief (Michael Gurupira) Mutoko.
“TM is selling bread for 70c while other shops are selling it for a dollar. I believe the opening of this new TM supermarket will help stabilise prices and free consumers from other retailers who were ripping them off.”
The dollarisation of the economy is luring large grocery retailers to move from the urban areas to rural markets enhancing their presence countrywide despite criticism from pro-indigenisation activists. A Harare-based economist says gone are the days when rural folk would be subjected to poor and sub-standard services and products. “Satellite television is opening rural people to both local and international tastes. Consumers are demanding wider choices from retailing and taking on more international tastes due to a combination of factors,” he says.
“OK and Spar are also likely to move with speed to chase this potential market at both growth points and other rural service centres. We must not forget that Africa is a rapidly urbanising continent and Zimbabwe is no exception. Rural centres are also the sector for future retail growth.”
Agnes Kowo of Mutoko says competition is good and will certainly force traditional grocery store owners to get their act together or die. “As a woman I also need a wide choice of goods and services from a supermarket. Gone are the days when rural folk were perceived as consumers of sugar, flour, salt and cooking oil,” she says. “We also need other products as well. Ice cream haisi yevanhu vekutown chete. We also need cakes and freshly baked bread and sanitary products.”
Zimbabwe’s supermarket revolution, though still in its infancy, is pointing to the need for strategies to enhance the penetration by investors into rural business creating more jobs and new infrastructure.
Rural folks can also benefit by supplying fresh produce to the retailers. “Economic empowerment should not disadvantage local consumers. Traditional grocery store owners must compete as well to help stabilise prices. How can we support them if they continue to charge high prices for their products? “Competition is healthy for consumers. We need it.”
A supermarket revolution into rural Zimbabwe started after the 1990s and continued in the post-2000 period with Spar and Lucky 7 stores expanding rapidly into rural service centres. Economic problems from around 2007 to 2009 forced many operators to close shop.
TM, a subsidiary of the Meikles group, which now has more than 53 branches countrywide, had not until recently made attempts to move into rural service centres. TM is the biggest retailer by outlets. South Africa’s Pick ‘n’ Pay has a significant stake in the supermarket chain.
Source: The Herald