According to Stephane Le Moullec, managing director at Butterfly London, a brand and innovation agency, growth of beauty in the MEA region is expected to average 6% a year during the next five years.
“Key opportunities have already been on the radar of cosmetics and beauty brand owners for a decade,” he comments.
Leading global players are looking at Iran as the next “jewel” of the region; in the premium segment the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of the Middle East are driving some very strong results.
“The men’s grooming segment is also offering some really strong potential, but the true ‘geography’ that represents the most fascinating opportunities is the digital space,” he added.
Le Moullec cites the acquisition by Amazon of Souq.com as key. Meanwhile new technologies (AI, Nano, VR, Weartech) combined with trials in the UAE of driverless cars and drone deliveries are expected to create extraordinary opportunities and a new level of consumer engagement.
Social Media & Influencers
Butterfly London research shows that beauty regimes differ across the MEA region, from the celebration of skin glow in Saudi Arabia to the different varieties of skin lightening in Nigeria. Yet, one aspect unites them all: millennial consumers are strongly influenced by the power of social media and follow the guidance of key influencers.
“When the Iraqi-American Huda Kattan talks about eyelashes, her 22 million followers listen,” states Le Moullec. “When the Lebanese Samer Khouzami reveals his art of transforming people through makeup, all brands take note.”
In contrast to digital interactions, the power of physical touch is strong, according to Butterly London’s research in Cairo, Dubai, Beirut and Nairobi.
“Consumers might be addicted to their iPhones, but they are also telling us that the most important beauty rituals were learned from their inner family and friends’ circle and from local makeup artists who have gained their trust,” said Le Moullec. “Consumers are telling us that they crave knowledge, guidance and know-how, but often feel overwhelmed. Brands that provide a genuine educational role will be successful.”
Local v. Global
Global beauty brands are widespread in the MEA region but local players thrive right alongside them, even taking significant market share. A few, including Kenya’s Suzie Beauty and Dubai-based Huda, sometimes offer a superior product experience as well. Le Moullec recalls the owner of one of the Dubai-based beauty brands saying:
“The brands that create a foundation for Paris or New York City don’t need to create a product that keeps its shape when it’s 48°C degrees outside, but I do. My product is better.”
There is also a strong sense of identity and pride that deeply resonates with consumers across the region. Young entrepreneurs from Lagos to Abu Dhabi are offering a real and meaningful alternative to faceless global brands that engage consumers through global campaigns based on the most common denominator. One example is South African niche beauty brand Malée, which has been making waves both in its local market and in the UK, where it is stocked in Harvey Nichols department store and online. Founder Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao has tried to capture the African continent in the formulations.
“Each product tells a story and celebrates the culture, traditions, people and the unspoilt landscapes with indigenous ingredients,” explained Oriaikhi-Sao. “We do this through scent, capturing moments and experiences unique to Africa.”
The Verdure fragrance is inspired by the Tanzanian legend that raindrops were believed to be the tears of Udo, the goddess of youth and beauty and a sip of rain could grant eternal beauty. Oriaikhi-Sao’s goal was to capture the feeling of 5am before sunrise, when the earth is still moist and the possibilities of the day are endless.
According to Andrew McDougall, global analyst, Mintel, African consumers have been underrepresented in beauty. He said it is time to focus on this potential target group. Rising GDP and an emerging middle class is creating new markets in Africa with hair care representing a strong growth opportunity.
“Consumers are more aware of and have greater access to a wide range of shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Just as in more developed markets, these products are expected to cross the line into commodity status.”
McDougall said that brands will need to ramp up their R&D efforts with innovative and unique offerings tailored to the local consumer. Although the emerging middle class is often the target for new products and brands, manufacturers can build their business by introducing smaller sized bottles or economy pricing to accommodate the financial constraints of less wealthy consumers.
In South Africa, L’Oréal has launched a Research and Innovation Centre aimed at better understanding the unique properties of African hair and skin, and to develop new products. African hair tends to be twisted with a flattened cross-section and characterized by slow hair growth and low hair density.
“It follows the acquisition (by L’Oréal) of small but popular beauty brands which target Black consumers globally and have helped the company penetrate the sub-Saharan market,” points out McDougall.
Mintel research highlights the importance of repairing and protecting treatment routines as women with ethnic hair often use harsh treatments and style their hair in a way that weakens it. The natural hair trend among African women has good potential with brands such as Cussons Venus Regular Relaxer infused with Moroccan argan oil aimed at keeping relaxed hair straight and sleek for longer periods of time.
Oriaiki-Sao sees immense potential for Africa’s producers sought after natural active ingredients and increased investment from larger firms.
“This opens the door both ways,” she says, “as tourism continues to grow and unique African experiences remain in high demand.”