Woolis eyes 15 stores across Africa

Woolworths aims to open 15 stores in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, Mauritius & Namibia.

FILE: Woolworths aims to open 15 stores in sub-Saharan Africa. Picture: Sebabatso Mosamo/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Woolworths, South Africa's second-biggest retailer by value, aims to open 15 stores in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Kenya, Mauritius and Namibia, in two to three years, a senior company official said on Thursday.

Speaking at a Reuters Africa Investment Summit in Johannesburg, the company's head of international operations, Paula Disberry, said expansion into the fast-growing continent could be faster if there were more shopping malls.

The chain has 65 African stores outside South Africa in 11 countries, including Botswana, Mauritius, Kenya and Ghana.

"The biggest challenge we see is finding good shopping malls. I'd love to have 650 stores rather than 65 stores but the locations simply don't exist and that's our biggest inhibiter," Disberry said.

"Even in the most developed markets like Kenya, for example, formal retail is still only 40 percent of the retail market place."

Property developers are struggling to keep pace with growing demand for malls in lucrative markets such as Nigeria, forcing grocer Shoprite and rival Massmart to build their own standalone stores.

Disberry said Woolworths was still very much committed to growing in sub-Saharan Africa after pulling the plug on its Nigerian business last year and announcing a $2 billion Australian expansion this week.

"There is no limit put on me in terms of how much I can spend in Africa. We've just got to find stuff that's going to make us money in the long term for us to buy but there are few fashion retailers in Africa," she said.

Woolworths is set to buy struggling Australian retailer David Jones in a deal that substantially bulks up its presence in the Asia-Pacific country.

The Australian deal comes months after it pulling out of Nigeria, which surpassed South Africa as Africa's biggest economy on Sunday, citing high rents and duties as well as difficulty in marketing its products to

Disberry said Woolworths would not think twice about returning to the west African country if what she called "many of the miracles happened", including lower duties, less port congestion and reasonable mall rentals.