How African Supply Chains Can Quickly Adapt for Relevance

The thing about innovation is that it is not always about great groundbreaking ideas. Sometimes, it is a little change that makes a great difference. However, whatever the innovation is, supply chains need to adapt to take full advantage of it.

I know we are all familiar with the concept of overnight success. But I have come to believe there is also such a term as overnight oblivion.

Growing up in Africa, Nigeria to be exact, I saw many brands and businesses suddenly become obsolete, and in many cases, a new product took its place, but there was always a difference with this new product.

Many times, I noticed they were smaller or more accessible.

For example, milk used to be sold primarily in tins, but it was getting too expensive. A time came when new brands came to the market with sachet, which slashed the price in many cases by as much as 80 or 90%.

As simple as this was, many of the businesses which sold milk in tins could not adapt, and within months, some years, they suddenly vanished from the market.

The trend has become very popular in many industries, including bleach, butter, cooking oil, etc. Same strategy, but like clockwork, businesses and supply chains find it difficult to adapt.




1. Invest in Demand Forecasting

Today, demand forecasting has evolved so much that barring catastrophic events like the pandemic, supply chains can work very well with demand forecasting data.

However, supply chains need to have the right system and resources in place to achieve this.

Many supply chains in Africa lack these resources and systems, which has made it difficult for them to plan their operations and inventory effectively.

By investing in adequate demand planning and forecasting systems, supply chains can have the ability to determine trends and predict customer behaviour accurately.

You don’t want to get stuck producing the wrong products or producing them a particular way while your customers have shifted their demands.

To optimize your demand forecasting investments and adapt effectively, the following steps will help you.

  • Define the goal of the demand forecasting system
  • Identify the correct data sources
  • Select a forecasting methodology that works for you
  • Get the right software
  • Continuously Improve


2. Market Research

As much as demand forecasting systems are important, it is often difficult for businesses on the continent to implement them. This can be for several reasons, including lacking expertise and resources.

Another approach supply chains can use to adapt is through market research. This can be done through traditional methods like surveys, focus groups and others.

Market research allows you to deal with your customers directly and determine their current behaviours and how you can correctly serve them.

However, that’s not all. Market research isn’t just about your customers.

You can use it to know what your competitors are up to, and in many cases, it can be more efficient than dealing with customers directly.

Through market research, you know what is working, and your supply chain can utilize its partners to adapt correctly.


3. Stay Flexible

What if you have the demand forecasting in place or your market research is on point, but your supply chain is rigid?

That is typically the case with many supply chains across Africa. 

The issue with a rigid supply chain is that it takes too long to adapt to current trends, and in many cases, when the supply chain finally adapts, it is too late. More often than not, they have lost market shares.

You can see all you want to, but your supply chain will suffer if you can’t take action. This is why your supply chain’s flexibility is very critical to the survival of your supply chain.

To adapt effectively, supply chains have to be as flexible as flexible as possible. You may do this through strategic partnerships, investing in technology, fresh perspective, and collaboration with multiple suppliers.

How do you make your supply chain flexible?

  • Get lean. Too many activities doing nothing will hobble your supply chain
  • Collaborate with multiple suppliers. Suppliers can disappoint you whether or not it’s their fault. Multiple suppliers give you options.
  • Embrace automation. It will speed up productivity and reduce repetitive tasks
  • Employ the principle of lean Six Sigma or continuous improvement.


4. Collaboration

It is very difficult to come across a full-blown supply chain management operation that doesn’t rely on suppliers for at least one facet of the supply chain.

Whether it is logistics, warehouse/inventory management, production, or any other aspect of the supply chain, it can be outsourced to suppliers.

Collaborating with suppliers has immense benefits for your supply chain and business, allowing you to focus on core strengths, introduce innovation, and ensure supply chain adaptability.

When collaborating, it is important to carefully select your suppliers and ensure they can play to the strength of your supply chain and that they allow you to focus on your business goals.

Because your suppliers play a vital role in your supply chain operations, they can make or break your supply chain.

The wrong suppliers can frustrate your supply chain’s efforts to adapt, but you can easily adapt to market demands with the right suppliers.


5. Technology

Technology makes the world go round. It does the same for global supply chain management, even in Africa.

With the right tech solutions, such as route optimization software, AI, IoT, blockchain, automation, robotics, WMS, and ERP software, you can simplify your supply chains, making adapting to customer demands and trends much easier.

Investing in tech solutions can be dreadful for supply chains in Africa, especially because of the cost implications, but despite the costs, the ROI can be very promising.

Investing in technology helps you eliminate boring and repetitive tasks and aids visibility, resilience, and agility. All of these will help supply chains in Africa adapt and ensure their organization stays relevant.


6. Optimize Inventory

Imagine having so much of the wrong inventory on hand, and it is not selling. On the other hand, imagine you have very little of the right inventory, and the demand far exceeds the supply.

Those are the inventory problems that can limit your supply chain’s ability to adapt to changes in the market.

To overcome this, your supply chain must integrate robust inventory control measures.

Inventory control is simply the process of managing your inventory levels so that you can meet your customer’s demands optimally.

Adapt inventory management models that suit your supply chain management and industry style to optimise your inventory.

Depending on your business and industry, you may want to use the JIT, pull, or push inventory model in your supply chain.

Demand forecasting and tech solutions are great systems that help you optimize your inventory. With an optimized inventory, supply chains can adapt to different trends and changes in the market.


Supply chains in Africa have unique challenges, especially with the business climate on the continent. However, when surrounded by the right systems, they can adapt to customer demands and behaviour changes.