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Cameroon: Unreliable Barcodes Hinder Market Access for Local Products

Cameroon: Unreliable Barcodes Hinder Market Access for Local Products
  • Comments   -   Friday, 24 November 2023 17:09

(Business in Cameroon) - The barcodes printed on some local products in Cameroon are unreliable, sources at the Ministry of Commerce and the Standards and Quality Agency (ANOR) reveal.

Currently, a product cannot reach supermarket shelves in Cameroon or abroad without a unique identifier called a barcode. This identifier, represented by a series of 13 digits, empowers barcode scanners to effortlessly identify products and generate their prices at the checkout counter. According to a cashier at a BAO supermarket in Douala, barcodes serve as a comprehensive product information repository, enabling companies to track and manage their inventory flows effectively. Moreover, barcodes contribute to fraud prevention by automatically recording each product sale as the barcode is scanned, she explained.

In Douala, Cameroon's economic hub, shopkeepers remained tight-lipped when asked about their product coding methods. However, sources suggest that some retailers generate their own barcodes, while others source goods from suppliers who get their barcodes printed by graphic designers. This information was corroborated by a graphic designer we encountered in the Ange-Raphaël district near Douala University. The latter, who requested anonymity, revealed that his fees for barcode creation range from XAF8,000 FCFA to XAF15,000 depending on the product packaging, with the possibility of discounts for bulk orders.

For Fabris Ekeu, the General Manager of GS1 Cameroun, a local subsidiary of the non-profit organization GS1 International that develops barcoding standards, there is a critical issue with codes generated independently. According to the General Manager, the codes produced in this manner lack the essential feature of traceability. He explains that over the past four years, GS1 Cameroun has generated more than 10,000 barcodes utilizing the "617" country code assigned to Cameroon by GS1 International for international standardization purposes. He adds that the significance of this specific country code lies in its ability to facilitate interoperable traceability. The head of GS1 Cameroun clarifies that the "617" code ensures a broader reach, allowing local products to transcend geographical boundaries and be marketed globally.  In contrast, barcodes commonly found in local supermarkets, provided by individual suppliers, are designed exclusively for use within those specific supermarkets. 

Access to major retailers

For the time being, "our standard fee for barcode generation is XAF 10,000, but we are flexible in adjusting our pricing to accommodate the financial circumstances of each company," says Fabris Ekeu. He also claims to have helped over 1,000 local firms ensure the traceability and reliability of their products in international markets. 

Carine Andela, the promoter of the Made in Cameroon concept who leads a team of over 500 local promoters, urges local producers to comply with standards. She points out that since the establishment of GS1 Cameroun, over 300 members of her association have already complied with standards, which enable them to supply major retailers (like Carrefour) that prioritize standardized coding before integrating products into their distribution channels.

Tens of thousands of local products have already been sold across the eight Carrefour stores, comprising seven Carrefour Market supermarkets and one Supeco supermarket, located in Cameroon. An advocate for "Made in Cameroon," CFAO Retail Cameroun, which owns the Carrefour supermarkets, places significant emphasis on product barcoding.  One of its executives who opted to remain anonymous reveals that the group is committed to adhering to all standards mandated by the State of Cameroon. The executive adds that when some suppliers offer products without barcodes, the group redirects them to GS1 Cameroun. We have a “database that enables us to check whether a barcode is genuine or not,” he stressed. 

According to Guillaume Tanne, the Chief Financial Officer of CFAO Retail Cameroun, local products now account for 40% of Carrefour’s sales in Cameroon, up from 30-35% a few years ago. 

Frédéric Nonos

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