The Gaborone-headquartered Choppies Enterprises Limited, which has already invested upwards of US$60 million in Zimbabwe, plans to increase its footprint in the country’s retail sector with more shops lined up, buoyed by the Botswana government’s commitment to support the local industry through a BWP1 billion credit facility.
Choppies Enterprises chief executive officer Ram Ottapathu told Business Weekly in emailed responses that the group is planning to splash on shops in Masvingo, Kwekwe and Marondera.
Currently, Choppies has over 2 000 employees since its foray into Zimbabwe in 2013, as it pursued regional expansion.
“We want to be a national player in Zimbabwe and to open stores in places like Masvingo, Marondera, Kwekwe and throughout the country,” said Ottapathu.
“My goal is to increase Choppies’ footprint in Zimbabwe.
“As a group headquartered in Botswana, I’m pleased to say that this ambition is matched by the Government of Botswana, who recently announced a credit facility aimed at helping boost investment by Botswana businesses in Zimbabwe.”
However, Ottapathu said Choppies’ focus this year is on restoring the business to its full operational capacity, and once that has been achieved, the company will look for new opportunities, “recognising always that converting opportunities to outcomes requires a clinical focus on logistics and customer service.”
Choppies controversy ends
Choppies started its operations in Zimbabwe in 2013 by acquiring stores in the Spar network. A year later, it established a distribution network.
As at September last year, the group had 35 supermarkets dotted across the country.
But ownership wrangles and its association with former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko, significantly affected its image in the eyes of most consumers.
Recently, some of the boardroom squabbles spilled into the courts, but an agreement has since been struck, which saw Choppies assuming 100 percent ownership of the local stores.
Said Ottapathu: “This was made possible by a resolution to our legal disputes with the Mphoko family. While I cannot divulge the details of the agreement, I am pleased to say that Choppies is happy with the outcome and excited to have control of all aspects of our business in Zimbabwe.”
“It’s a great relief to me that this episode is now behind us and we can concentrate 100 percent on delivering value for our customers. Every cloud has a silver lining. In this case have full ownership of our business and our independence has been 100 percent restored.
“Our ties with the Mphoko family no longer exist. We have terminated all our association.”
Ottapathu said consumers will judge Choppies on the firm’s commitment to delivering quality goods and produce at affordable prices.
“In my view, the best thing we can do for our corporate image is to serve our customers well. No amount of PR or marketing can substitute for great client service.”
Due to the company’s association with the Mphoko family, Choppies had become a target for attack by opposition supporters, and during the January 14-16 violent demonstrations, nine of its branches in high density suburbs were badly looted by hoodlums.
The company said it lost stock valued at almost $2,5 million while four shops were torched by arsonists, destroying equipment and assets estimated at $6,5 million.
Choppies indicated that arsonists “will not deter” it from achieving its goal of bringing grocery convenience to where people stay. It targets about 60 shops in Zimbabwe.
Ottapathu said the events of January 2019 “were tough”. “Everyone in Zimbabwe experienced hardship and tragedy during this regrettable period. Yes, the instances of looting that we experienced and the damage inflicted on our stores has been a setback.
“Our insurers are still evaluating the full cost of the damage, but in the meantime we are doing everything we can to rebuild, restock and restore usual services to our customers.
“We will continue to explore additional business opportunities and where possible, we will increase our footprint. We remain focused on delivering affordable convenience and creating employment for the people of Zimbabwe, with a special emphasis on harnessing and growing local supply chains where we can,” said Ottapathu.
Choppies’ future bright in Zimbabwe
Ottapathu said the current trading conditions in Zimbabwe were “tough”, due to a number of factors including foreign currency shortages, but the supermarket chain expects a bright future.
“It’s been challenging to keep our stores well stocked. The shortage of foreign currency presents a real obstacle for everyone.
“It’s been hard work but, so far so good, and now that we have 100 percent ownership of our business, the long-term outlook for Choppies in Zimbabwe is bright.
“Zimbabwe is still home to some of the best-managed companies in the region and one of the most productive workforces anywhere in the world. This ‘soft’ infrastructure has so much appeal for long term investors like Choppies,” he said.
He added that since households have less disposable income and are naturally seeking more value, their model of retailing should enable Choppies to gain market share at this time.
“That’s what we will be aiming to do — deliver more value for price sensitive consumers; and gain market share,” said Ottapathu.