Technology and non-fuel services amongst the top trends in the African market.

For more than a decade, Thibaud Hacquard, Sales Director Africa at Bever Innovations has been working in the African continent; first as a General Manager for Tanzania Petroleum Services before joining Tokheim as an Area Sales Manager and eventually moving to Bever Innovations in 2015. The move from his native France was spurred on not by a particular job opportunity or a love for the industry, but a desire to live and work in Africa.

Over the last eleven years, Thibaud has been witness to huge changes throughout Africa, which he knows has the potential to be “the world’s next great growth market.”

Structural changes

One major market development over the last decade has been the exit of major oil companies, allowing space for new entrants whilst at the same time, giving existing local companies the room to expand their footprint in the continent. In 2010, Puma Energy purchased BP’s fuel marketing business in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. Just a year later, in 2011, Vivo Energy, the Shell licensee in 15 African markets, was established to distribute and market Shell-branded fuels and lubricants. In 2017, Shell completed the sale of its 20% interest in Vivo Energy Holding B.V. to Vitol Africa B.V. for a total amount of US$250 million, whilst still retaining a long term licensing agreement with the company. Since then Vivo has continued to develop its presence expanding into 8 more countries through the acquisition of Engen’s African assets in 2019.

Total Energies seems to have bucked this trend amongst the majors, maintaining a longstanding, enduring presence in the continent. Total is the leading distributor of petroleum products in Africa and serves everyday more than 2 million customers in its network of over 4,500 service stations in 40 African countries.

“I think we can also notice that the organisation, the technology, the rising incomes, political stability and better governance have all made Africa more attractive for businesses. The market definitely has the potential to be the world’s next great growth market,” explained Thibaud.

An appetite for technological change

 “The African market has a real appetite for technology” Thibaud explained. Retailers want to use the latest technology to be able to connect and control their network, allowing them to access important data from wherever they are,” he added.

Almost all Bever Innovations’ LED products are supplied with EOS Technology as standard. These luminaires are connected via a secure wireless network and exchange information 24/7, without the need for a connection to the internet. Managed via the EOS Manager app, the lighting network can give retailers insights into energy consumption and CO2 emissions, but also information about movements, daylight levels and reports from security systems. The assets can also be managed remotely via Bever Innovation’s EOS Connected solution web portal from any desired location. This web portal makes it easy to access, monitor and manage the EOS devices of all authorised petrol stations with an internet connection.

“By collecting data and treating it in the right way, it enables retailers to identify a way forward. The data can help them understand what the customer is looking for and it gives them the opportunity to improve the overall customer experience in the station,” he added.

Bever Innovation’s LED lighting products are present in over half of the 54 African nations. The robust nature of the products and the long lifespan coupled with minimal maintenance requirements make them an ideal choice to handle the requirements of the African market.

Thibaud continued: “It is important to recognise that Africa is a huge continent. The most frequent mistake made by non-African people is to think that Africa is the same everywhere, but actually it’s very different from one country to another, namely the people, the culture and of course the cuisine. When we talk about the fuel retail industry, the same applies.

“We are very successful in Senegal for example, where we have a strong local partner in Cosetam, who have helped us to grow our presence. Local oil companies really understand the benefits of installing good reliable equipment with a long lifespan and minimal maintenance requirements, rather than opting for a cheaper equivalent that won’t last as long and could give them problems in the medium term.”

Non fuels services

With tight fuel margins retailers are increasingly turning to non-fuels services to help generate revenue on the fuel station. Whilst in Europe, COVID helped increase footfall for non-fuel related sales on the forecourt, in Africa this side of the business has been long established. Fuel stations, particularly in rural regions, are an important retail hub for most local communities.

As well as providing under-canopy lighting, contour illumination, perimeter area lighting and price signs on the exterior of the site, Bever Innovations also offer a range of indoor lighting equipment to help retailers attract customers into the store.

“Obviously when you have a shop or restaurant at your station, lighting is incredibly important and is a terrific way to improve the customer experience, although every shop has a different lighting requirement,” Thibaud explained.

Because of this, Bever offers a lighting plan service which considers the layout of the space and the impact of natural daylight, together with the existing lighting points. As with the exterior lighting products, the interior LED lights benefit from the same long-life span and low energy consumption, with optional EOS Technology as required, meaning that retailers can easily set, monitor and manage light levels, light scenarios and dimming levels, managed through the easy to use EOS Manager app.

The EV Revolution

A trend that Thibaud believes will take some time to catch on in Africa, is electric vehicles. “We are far from what you readily find in Europe and the Western world right now. The EV revolution will ultimately appear, but it will take a long time,” he explained.

“Some regions will develop faster than others, but the problem remains that most of the electricity produced in Africa is done so by consuming carbon products and in that sense, we are not really solving the problem,” he added.

Thibaud concluded that whether fuel station customers are using petrol, hydrogen, gas or electric a retailer’s role remains the same – to create a welcoming environment which attracts them, informs them, and makes them feel safe.