In 1999, Chinedu Rita Rosa was working in the Union Bank in Nigeria. She was also dating a Lebanese businessman called Jalal Abou-Rjeily, whose family were Nigeria’s biggest wine importers through their business X O Wine.
Rosa ended up marrying him, but acknowledges that it wasn’t his palate that attracted her. “He was like, ‘this is good,’ and I was, ‘no, this is terrible’.”
Today, Rosa is the founder of Vines by Rosa, a Bordeaux-based wine and marketing consultancy that helps Nigerian importers improve their wine offerings, and advises European companies on how to enter Nigeria where, Rosa says, 100 wine stores are opening every week.
Birth of a wine-drinking nation
Although Nigeria was mostly a beer-drinking country in the 1990s, Rosa got an early wine education from her uncle, a Catholic archbishop who used to return from Rome bearing bottles. “He brought the good stuff,” she says. “Tuscan.”
Unlike Abou-Rjeily, who brought in the bad stuff—despite having a cousin who was a winemaker—Rosa knew how to tell a good wine from a bad. “Unofficially, I was in the background saying, ‘this one doesn’t taste too bad’ and ‘I think you should buy more of this’.
Gradually, as the business imported better products more wine began to find its way into Nigerian hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets.
In Nigeria, 100 wine stores are opening every week.
In 2000, Rosa and her husband moved to Lebanon, where she began to explore vineyards and winemaking. After Abou-Rjeily, died in 2008, she returned to Nigeria. By then, X O Wines was set on creating wine retail, and Rosa who had just had a baby, decided to join the company rather than go back to the stress of banking.
“I started selecting the wines. I advised on the price point. I came into the wine business just by being there and learning about wine while I drank it.” Soon, her role expanded to buying and wine education, and then toa wine club. “We had all the big names, the Grand Crus, the Champagne.” Having a Nigerian present on the floor also proved reassuring for locals who struggled to pronounce wine vocabulary. “The Nigerians were very attracted to this, because they’d had no chance to learn about wine.”
Rosa was in constant contact with representatives of major wine companies, particularly in France, and travelled there regularly.
A new start in France
Then, in 2009, she met and married a Frenchman, Frederic Rosa, who was working on Nigerian engineering projects and who had wandered into the store. In 2015, they moved to Bordeaux. But a disappointment awaited.
Debating the wisdom of relocating permanently to France, Rosa had asked many of her suppliers about the chances of finding a job. “I got so many affirmative answers—‘once you come, give me a call, we’d be so lucky to have you’.”
But once she was no longer a customer her phone calls, emails or letters went unanswered. “I got very depressed,” says Rosa.
So she created Bordeaux Business Network, bringing together ex-pats who were in the same position. “I started [it] with Anja Herman, over a glass of wine. Now it’s 1,200 members strong. We do workshops, we have business coaches who give you advice.”
This gave her the confidence to start Vines by Rosa, a company that both helps Europeans to enter Nigeria, and Nigerian importers, by selecting wines and negotiating prices.
Wine exports to Nigeria
There have been two problems with wines being exported to Nigeria, she says. Inexperienced buyers were purchasing poor-quality bulk wines simply because they were cheap. “I told all the importers that I would check the quality.”
The second issue was that even when good wines were ordered—from Spain, Italy or France—what arrived in Nigeria were poor-quality substitutes. “Producers don’t take Nigeria seriously, so they think they can get away with poorer quality.”
So many international companies have cheated Nigerians across so many consumer categories, that the government had to create an official association for quality control.
This isn’t simply a wine problem: so many international companies have cheated Nigerians across so many consumer categories, that the government had to create an official association for quality control.
The irony of this, says Rosa, is that the Nigerian market is going through an “astronomical” growth phase and the companies that have built their brands in Lagos, the capital, have used been able to use it as a springboard into other African markets. “People drink wine. They want sparkling wine at their weddings.” A bottle of wine on the table, she says, is now a sign of sophistication.
Nigeria is a country of staggering wealth inequality, where billionaires thrive alongside others facing hunger. The median wealth is just $7,618. But the middle class is already 23% of the population - big news in a country whose population is tipped to double to 500 million by 2050—that means there’s a huge economic opportunity.
Wine consumption figures are difficult to come by, but according to Marketresearch.com, the value of the Nigerian wine market is forecast to hit $570.9m by 2025, a near tripling of value in ten years. Viktor Ikem, the founder and director of Drinks Revolution Limited, told Vanguard media that Nigeria currently has 40, regular wine consumers.
Understanding the Nigerian market
Rosa says anyone wanting to export wine to Nigeria needs to know the right people, but that this shouldn’t come as a surprise—all markets have their own way of doing business, and their own specialists. But instead of doing normal due diligence on how to enter the market, would-be exporters succumb to “fears of the unknown” about Africa.
Her advice is simple: “You need to offer wines that will fit every pocket.” Wines are sold for as little as €1 but the €4-10 bracket is the largest market segment, and then the €10-15 after that.
Rosa’s rule of thumb is that after shipping, customs, taxes and mark-ups, a wine will retail on a Nigerian shelf for three times its ex-cellar price.
Meanwhile, Rosa has another project: mentoring the next generation of wine professionals. Earlier this year, she teamed up with noted Bordeaux wine writer Jane Anson to guide seven fledgling wine professionals through vintage. During the first Bordeaux Wine Week. It has taken a while for her to take this logical next step from advising Nigerian bankers on what to drink with their dinner, but as she says, it is one she thinks is really “important”.