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Product quality needs to be regulated in Africa

By: Shelley Galliver.

One of the biggest challenges of distributing products into Africa is the lack of standards and regulatory bodies monitoring products coming into countries on the continent.


In South Africa, we have always ensured our products carry the South African Bureau of Standards, or SABS, stamp of approval, which consumers and specifiers see as the standard to which the product not only needs to perform to, but usually also surpass. This is the manufacturer or the supplier’s reassurance to all in the supply chain – including the consumer – that they are getting the quality and the peace of mind they are paying for.

We have seen that few or no standards exist in Africa, and many countries do not even have a standards regulatory body to test and approve products. These standards guide a precedent of how that particular type of product should perform or the lifespan of the product. For this reason, many cheap goods have landed on our shores and have found willing consumers to purchase and use them, believing that it is simply a ‘good deal’ or that the South African brands that carry marks of excellence are over-priced. So how do we get around this?

First, we have seen a trend lately where architects and developers want to have those reassurances from the suppliers on the product. Therefore, perhaps we can begin to make the SABS (or an equivalent standards authority) a standard known throughout Africa. This need not apply to the test criteria since products and country norms vary, but simply serve as a mark of trust in what you are buying or specifying. The opportunities for this regulatory body or its equivalent would be massive if they could align themselves with the other African governments and perhaps even decide on an African norm.

Second, education is key. It is about taking the time to explain why our products are better. Explain their features and benefits and why it is worth spending more upfront on a well-made product, instead of having to replace the same product over and over again.

But this kind of education is expensive in Africa, depending on who you are trying to reach and in which country. Often the usual media channels we are accustomed to do not exist. This needs to be overcome with face-to-face education, or through conferences and bodies that can influence building and development projects, for example developers and architects conferences.

We have seen that many of those in the mining sector — perhaps because they have several South African expats working on these mines — are well-acquainted with the South African brands, as well as the standards and the safety ratings that go with these products. They are not easily swayed on price alone, which is where we need to capture the rest of the market. Isn’t a tap in the home used by a child just as important (from a safety perspective), as mining products are to a mine manager?

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