As in other North African markets, the Tunisian retail sector has been predominantly controlled by a myriad of small shops. However, modern distribution channels have gradually emerged over the past 15 years with the expansion of international supermarket chains and franchises across the country. During the 2011 revolution, many supermarkets were looted or destroyed – leading to a temporary disruption in activity – but the sector has rapidly recovered and has since experienced double-digit growth, driven by the acceleration of new retail property, an influx of 300,000 high-income Libyan migrants and a gradual shift in consumption patterns.
With a total sector turnover of about TD3bn (€1.3bn) in 2016, modern distribution currently accounts for 22% of that turnover – a level quite comparable to European countries at 23% – and contributes 3% to GDP. Simultaneously, while also still quite low, e-commerce has experienced a steady development in recent years, fostered by widening access to banking services and the internet (see Telecoms & IT chapter).
The retail landscape in Tunisia is affected by a range of factors, including a population of 11.3m as of July 2016, growing at 1.8% annually, with over 2m living in Tunis alone. Per capita income, meanwhile, stood at €3588 for 2015, down from €3768 in 2014, according to statistics from the World Bank.
Despite the development of modern retail, 80% of the sector’s turnover is still retained by a relatively dense network of 250,000 small shops spread across Tunisia, predominately located in rural areas where large retail outlets remain underdeveloped. Their selling area typically ranges between 20 and 50 sq metres with an average of 100 food items carried.
As is the case throughout the region, small shopkeepers have proved resilient in the face of modern retail development, and continue to hold a dominant position due to Tunisian consumers’ habit of buying food items on a daily basis in nearby grocery stores and limiting trips to larger outlets to just once or twice per month. “Addressing the informal sector is largely the responsibility of the government, but the retail sector can do their part by continuing to invest in quality products and services, which provide a competitive edge,” Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem, general manager of retail group Monoprix, told OBG.
In addition, most urban areas have a souq – or outdoor market – within arm’s reach, populated predominantly by local traders and farmers where Tunisian households buy perishable items.
In an effort to increase the level of formalisation in the sector, and improve the efficiency of retail sales and supply chains, the authorities introduced new legislation in 2009 aimed at regulating the development of modern distribution, as well as providing a legal framework to govern central purchasing and franchising activities.
To protect local businesses, for example, the legislation imposed restrictions on foreign companies, which can only engage in wholesale or retail activities via a joint venture with a Tunisian company and upon authorisation from the government. The legislation also groups modern retail structures into three classifications: hypermarkets (with over 5000 sq metres of selling space), supermarkets (between 500 and 5000 sq metres) and “superettes” (less than 500 sq metres). The establishment of a hypermarket, in particular, is subject to a pre-approval by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and their numbers are limited in a specific area.
The 2009 legislation further introduced a clear franchising regime and trademark protections. While franchises were previously granted on a case-by-case basis, the new framework removed the pre-approval for foreign franchises across a range of 26 sectors, including retail and distribution operations; hotels and tourism; training and teaching; vehicle servicing and repair; and beauty salons. However, even with the pre-approval stipulation removed, there are administrative bottlenecks that investors face. Since the implementation of modified regulatory guidelines in 2010, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has only awarded 20 licences, and foreign companies must secure the approval of the Central Bank of Tunisia to repatriate royalties overseas (see Tax chapter).
To help address some of these issues, in 2015 the MIT supported the opening of the Tunisian Academy of Franchising as part of a partnership between the Sfax Business Development Centre, the German Agency for International Cooperation and the French Franchise Federation. The academy’s goal is to provide business counsel to young entrepreneurs looking to establish or run foreign franchises.
Simultaneously, the Tunisian Franchising Association – the sector’s lobbying arm – has adopted a code of ethics aimed at setting good franchising practices and now organises annual events to encourage the development of new franchises.
Furthermore, the government has launched the $50m Tunisia Credit Guarantee Facility – backed by the US-based Overseas Private Investment Corporation – which guarantees bank loans granted to Tunisian franchisees. As a result, an increasing number of foreign franchises have entered the market. As the country’s capital and its largest and wealthiest city, Tunis unsurprisingly hosts the greatest concentration of franchises – although tourist destinations like Nabeul, Hammamet and Sousse are also seeing a handful of outlets emerge.
Among the fastest-growing retail segments are clothing (Petit Bateau, LC Waikiki, KIABI, Springfield, Women’secret, MOA, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, Massimo Dutti) and restaurant chains (Quick, Pizza Hut, Hippopotamus, Johnny Rockets, Paul, Cinnabon, Fatburger, Chili’s, Papa John’s, Burger King), followed by furniture and house equipment (Réponse Lit, Cuisines Schmidt, Mobalpa), and beauty and wellness (Relooking Beauté Minceur, HyperMinceur, Water-bike, Alain Afflelou). These join a selection of local chains, including cookware (Cuisina), poultry retail (El Mazraa, Chahia), traditional pastry (Masmoudi, Gourmandise), and ready-to-wear fashion (Bonbons et Caramels, Sasio-Blue Island).
The 2009 legislation has helped to support the emergence of modern retail outlets – an increasing number of which are moving to properties dedicated to retail businesses.
Similar to elsewhere in North Africa, such dedicated properties in Tunisia have historically been limited, with most retail outlets limited to B- and C-class real estate. However, Tunisia has recently seen an expansion of formal shopping space, especially with the opening of Tunisia Mall. This 37,000-sq-metre shopping facility was inaugurated in December 2015 in Tunis’ upscale neighbourhood of Berges du Lac, and was built by Tunisian developer Chaabane Group for TD130m (€55.8m).
Chaabane Group has plans to extend Tunisia Mall and build four new facilities outside of the capital, including a Tunisia Mall in the areas of Ennasr, Hammamet, Monastir and Sfax. This is in addition to the group opening another mall at Tunis Lake in mid-2017, with the creation of 100 jobs.
Among other mall projects under construction are Bourgo Mall, a 40,000-sq-metre shopping centre on Djerba island, and Azur City, a mall near Ben Arous built by the real estate group Mabrouk.
In terms of e-commerce, Tunisia is ranked 73rd worldwide and third in Africa, behind South Africa and Mauritius but ahead of Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development. In August 2016 the country’s e-commerce segment was composed of 980 merchant websites that processed some 1.5m transactions annually via two platforms, eDinar and Serveurs de Paiement Sécurisé. The total e-commerce turnover was estimated at TD110m (€47.2m).
This method of shopping has been driven by increased access to credit cards. Approximately 49,000 cards were used on the internet in 2016 compared to 35,000 in 2015, according to statistics collected by Société Monétique Tunisie. Nearly half of all payments were to air transport websites (45%), followed by utility groups such as the Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas and the National Water Distribution Utility (18%), telecoms operators (16%), and deal websites (6%).
In 2016 the average number of transactions per day grew from 2000 to 3500, while the average amount paid per transaction declined from TD104 (€44.60) to TD89 (€38.17). This is attributable to the multiplication of deal sites and low-cost offers.
Tunisia was one of the first countries in Africa to carry out a proactive policy in favour of e-commerce following the passage of Law 2000-83 in 2000, which established a regulatory framework for electronic exchange. As part of its strategic plan known as Digital Tunisia (see Telecoms & IT chapter), the authorities are now looking to raise the number of retail websites to 1400 by 2018.
While there has been a gradual rise in the number of retail properties in Greater Tunis, the sector itself remains concentrated in terms of activity, with the market divided between three primary operators, each holding just under one-third of the sector. Established in 1920, Magasin Général (MG) is the longest standing operator in the retail sector. The group was a state-owned company before its privatisation in 2007 to a consortium of two large Tunisian firms, Poulina and Bayahi, which are respective owners of wholesalers Promogro and Magro. In 2012 the company sold 10% of its capital to French retailer Auchan.
MG’s network is currently composed of 83 supermarket-type outlets and, in 2017, the company is set to build its first Auchan hypermarket in Radès, Tunis’ southern suburb. Estimated at a cost of TD200m (€85.8m), the project is scheduled for completion in 2019 and expected to generate an annual turnover of TD200m (€85.8m) – equivalent to 20% of MG’s total activity. The company also has plans to build two supermarkets in Sousse, one in Sfax, one in Jendouba and one in Djerba.
Tunisia’s Mabrouk Group, which partnered with French retailer Casino in the late 1990s for the development of Monoprix-licensed supermarkets, is another major operator. In 2005 the company set up a 12,000-sq-metre hypermarket under the licence of Géant – Casino group’s hypermarket brand – located on the highway from Tunis to Bizerte.
The company currently operates a network of 79 retail supermarkets, and is expected to open more than five new Monoprix stores in 2017 as part of a plan to reach a total retail surface of 90,000 sq metres by 2020. Mabrouk Group will also invest TD130m (€55.8m) in the construction of a second 10,000-sq-metre hypermarket under the Géant licence, which will be part of a 35,000-sq-metre commercial centre situated along the road to Hammamet. In addition to its domestic operations, Mabrouk Group opened two supermarkets in Libya in 2012 and has plans to open new branches in the Moroccan and Algerian markets.
The third primary player is Ulysee Trading & Industrial Companies (UTIC), which operates in conjunction with the French retail chain Carrefour. The company was the first to break ground in the hypermarket segment, with the set up of a Carrefour-licensed hypermarket in 2001 located between Tunis and its northern suburb, La Marsa. In addition to this facility, the company currently runs a small-sized hypermarket in Gabès, two cash-and-carries, and 76 supermarkets and proximity outlets under the shared Carrefour licence. “There are plenty of opportunities that exist for foreign brands – particularly those who target the mass market – in Tunisia,” Mohamed Chérif Karoui, general manager of Carrefour Tunisia, told OBG.
As part of its growth strategy, UTIC has announced plans to build a new hypermarket in southern Tunis and develop new retail units in medium-sized cities including Tozeur and Kairouan. “As the modern distribution sector is still in its early stages in Tunisia, retailers have been looking to boost their market share by expanding their footprint across the Tunisian territory. During the next few years, the development of new stores is expected to be concentrated in secondary cities where the potential for modern retailing is still under-tapped”, Thierry Tinseau, operation executive director for Carrefour Tunisia, told OBG.
In 2015 UTIC expanded into Algeria in partnership with the Algerian Saudi Investment Company, establishing a joint venture called Hyper Distribution Algérie (HDA). HDA has since opened a Carrefour-licensed supermarket in Algiers and has plans to set up new units in several Algerian regional capitals. In recent years, however, the three companies have faced increased competition from the low-cost segment, namely by the Aziza retail chain, a subsidiary of the Tunisian group Slama. With a presence in 10 cities, the group – which has extended its footprint through the development of 80 small-sized superettes – currently holds a market share of roughly 6%.
One of Tunisia’s largest retail segments is automotive, with roughly 20 players selling 30 different foreign brands. The market has room to grow as Tunisia’s car ownership rate stands below 10% – a higher level than in Algeria or Morocco, but still modest compared to other middle-income economies such as Turkey (11%) or Romania (20%). According to the US government’s International Trade Association, the country’s stock of vehicles was estimated at 1.8m units in 2016.
The largest car dealers in Tunisia are the Ennakl group, which serves as the licensed retailer of Volkswagen, Audi-Porsche and Skoda; Universal Auto Distributors Holding, the official distributor of Citroen, Mazda and DS; and Artes group, which distributes Renault Dacia and Nissan. All three groups hold between 10% and 15% of the market.
In 2015 Tunisian car dealers sold about 54,200 light commercial vehicles, a 1.6% increase year-on-year, but still 8% below the peak sales year registered in 2010 with 58,900 vehicles. European brands have remained the best-selling, with an aggregate 60% market share in 2015, though they have been facing greater competition from Asian companies in recent years. US brands Ford, Chevrolet and GM are also present, but market share is less than 10%. Renault was the leading brand in the personal car segment in 2015, with a 10.95% market share, slightly ahead of South Korea’s KIA (10.92%) and Volkswagen (10.7%). For the utility car segment, Isuzu, via its car dealer Afrique Auto, held the largest market share with 24.%, followed by Citroen (22%) and Peugeot (10%).
In Tunisia, the automobile retail sector is regulated via concessionary licences granted by the MIT, with a quota system for car imports. Official car dealers are free to import vehicles from the EU as part of the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement, but are subject to the quota system to prevent an exacerbation of the country’s trade deficit.
Until 2010 quotas on imported cars were determined by several metrics, ranging from domestic demand for light vehicles to the volume of local content and production for the imported brand. Between 2011 and 2014, however, the annual distribution quota was set at 45,000 vehicles before the MIT gave permission for a quota increase to 60,000 vehicles per year in 2015. The current quota system also allows car dealers to import a set number of cars based on past performance, and introduced a quota redistribution scheme that re-allocated imported units unsold by the fourth quarter of the year to other dealers. New brands are limited to an initial quota of 1000 vehicles, which is subject to review annually. “With regard to liberalising car imports, the challenge will be to ensure that liberalisation will not excessively deplete foreign currency reserves,” Ibrahim Debache, CEO of Ennakl, told OBG.
The quota system has lagged behind a growth in domestic demand, which in turn has led to the emergence of a parallel market. Out of a total of 70,000-80,000 vehicles registered every year in Tunisia, dealers estimate that up to one-third of those come from the parallel market, accounting for as many as 27,000 units in 2015, with an increase of around 10% annually. Thus, negotiations are underway to dismantle the quota system for certain categories of goods, including automobile imports. “The devaluation of the Tunisian dinar, along with a decline in purchasing power and the continued import quota regime, will continue to put pressure on car sales in Tunisia,” Debache told OBG.
Despite some economic downturn, the modern distribution sector has continued to thrive in recent years, with the expansion of international franchising and supermarket brands, and the multiplication of large retail outlets. During the next few years, the sector is expected to keep posting strong growth, driven by a growing population and rising purchasing power. However, retail performance will also be reliant on the country’s capacity to attract foreign tourists, boost the economy and create jobs. In parallel, the development of modern retail is expected to have a ripple effect on agri-business and fast-moving consumer goods, as supermarket chains source 75% of their products locally. Similarly, international clothing firms have looked to local manufacturers to produce part of their collections.
With these products sold in larger volumes and at cheaper prices in modern outlets than in small-sized shops, local consumption could increasingly serve as a catalyst for growth for the expansion of these manufacturing segments that have traditionally based their development strategy on exports.
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