A whole continent of shoppers
It has tripled over the past 30 years, from 111-million people in 1980 to 313-million in 2010, said a recently published report from Deloitte Consulting. One in three people on the continent are now considered to be "living above the poverty line".
However, most of these people are still far from wealthy.
The African Development Bank defines the African middle class as those spending between $2 and $20 a day.
According to the report, the bank deems this comparatively low range, as middle class "given the cost of living on the world's poorest continent".
The middle class is defined relative to the average income, which is lower in Africa than on other continents. Less money also buys more in Africa than in other places.
Purchasing parity might be different in Africa, but its middle-class consumers are spending their money in the same ways as other aspirational buyers in the world. Their spending patterns are being shaped through media and other global influences as Africa opens up.
"African consumers want the same as consumers elsewhere – a mobile phone, a bank account, and the latest Beyoncé CD bought in a store at a shopping mall," Deloitte reported.
The biggest opportunities in this growing market exist for providers of food, clothing, cellphones, entertainment, financial services and healthcare. There is also a "spill-over effect" into areas such as construction and agriculture.
Those in the African middle class are often small business owners or hold salaried jobs. They tend to live in urban centres and have fewer children than their rural counterparts. They own refrigerators, flatscreen TVs and cars, are politically assertive and are "harnessing technology".
With 62% of the population under 25 years old, Africa has a guaranteed consumer base for years to come. "Clearly, for those companies seeking to expand their footprint on the African continent, opportunities lie at the bottom of the pyramid," the report observed.