Do Nigerians really drink as much champagne as the French?

What do Africa’s super-wealthy spend their money on? Much the same things that rich people around the the world do: cars, houses and champagne, according to a BBC Africa report on the shopping habits of rich Africans.

Starting at the Luxury and Wealth Summit in Johannesburg, reporter Milton Nkosi took viewers on a tour of a sports car dealership and a high-end property in the three-minute report, which aired on 17 July.

But the segment has caused unlikely controversy: in an interview with Silvana Bottega, head of the Southern Africa Luxury Association, she said: “In the sector of champagne, it is very well-documented that Nigeria has now become the second largest consumer of champagne after France.”

Africa’s most populous country overtook South Africa as the continent’s largest economy last year, but do Nigerians pop nearly as much bubbly as the French themselves?

When questioned about this claim, Bottega pointed to two news reports published in 2013: one in The Guardian, and another by the Japan Times.

But these articles reported Nigeria was forecast to show the second fastest growth in champagne consumption during the period 2011 to 2016, rather than the second highest absolute sales.

“Somehow that [forecast] turned into ‘second biggest market’”, The Wall Street Journal’s West Africa correspondent, Drew Hinshaw, tweeted at BBC Africa.

The claim that Nigeria is the world’s second largest consumer of French champagne is “one of those imperishable evergreen stories”, tweeted Howard French, associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism:South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Africa and News24 are among the outlets that used the fudged statistic, often in pieces about changing patterns of luxury consumption.

Status symbols

Drinks analyst Spiros Malandrakis says that Nigeria’s champagne consumption forecasts are based on expected oil revenues in emerging markets in west Africa. When the oil industry was thriving, market research company Euromonitor International predicted that the wealth gained from these revenues would drive consumption of status symbols.

Nigeria has more billionaires than any other African country, and the number of millionaires has nearly doubled in the past decade. However, the benefits of the oil-driven boom have have not been widely distributed. Around 61% of Nigerians are living in poverty, with close to half existing on less than 80p per day.

“The country’s getting richer but the people don’t feel it,” one observer noted at the time of the presidential election in March.

On shopping site Jumia, bottles of Dom Perignon champagne start at 40,000 Naira (£130), which is more than a Nigerian on the minimum wage would be paid for two month’s work.

That said, rich Nigerians do love champagne. Data shows Nigeria ranks just outside the world’s top 20 consumers. Counting bottles sold, Nigeria came in 22nd in 2014, according to a market analyst at International Wine and Spirits Research. Daniel Mettyear said his company recorded 1.1m bottles of champagne in Nigeria – compared to 303m bottles consumed in France.

Actual sales could be higher, though. “A lot of exports are under-declared in order to avoid taxes, particularly with luxury goods,” Mettyear said.

Looking at imports, Nigeria was the 23rd largest champagne importer in the world in 2014. The country imported 768,131 bottles, according to Comité Champagne researcher Brigitte Batonnet – far behind the UK’s 34m, but still enough to make Nigeria the champagne power-drinker in the region.

“[Nigeria] has never appeared in the top 10. But Nigeria has been, for some years now, the [top] importer of champagne in Africa”, she added.

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