Frugal innovation in Africa: Tracking Unilever’s washing-powder sachets.

Author(s): Beers, C. van, P. Knorringa & A. Leliveld
Publication date: 2013
In: Transforming Innovations in Africa: Explorative Studies on Appropriation in African Societies pp. 59-77
Editors: Jan-Bart Gewald, André Leliveld and Iva Peša
Title: Frugal innovation in Africa: Tracking Unilever’s washing-powder sachets.
Keywords: Africa; Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP); frugal innovation; OMO sachets; Western-based multinational enterprises (MNEs)


In Transforming Innovations in Africa the authors explore how external innovations (products, technologies, services, institutions and processes) that were envisaged, developed and designed elsewhere, came to be innovatively and sometimes unexpectedly appropriated and transformed within Africa.

Western-based multinational enterprises (MNEs) have played a major role in the introduction and marketing of new products and services in Africa?s consumer markets. Frugal innovations are the result of the recent ambitions of mostly MNEs to design and sell products for and to consumers at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP). This chapter (4) presents a case study which suggests that better collaboration with African partners in order to supply goods to the BoP in a profitable way is of great importance. The OMO sachets were a success from a sales perspective and turnover increased greatly over figures from the early 1990s due to the introduction of the more affordable economy-sized sachets. Finally, the chapter considers whether, by addressing frugal innovation for Africa, product innovations brought into Africa by foreign parties can increasingly become influenced and transformed a priori by Africans, before the products have entered the African market.

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