From Doom to Boom: Trillion-naira Face Mask Market Opens Up for Nigerians

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When Nigeria, like many other countries, mandated the wearing of face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, little did policymakers know they were helping to create a new market for some Nigerians, Bayo Akinloye reports

First, the bad news

On December 31, 2019, China alerted the World Health Organisation of 27 cases of “viral pneumonia” in the central city of Wuhan. Authorities shut down a wet market in Wuhan the next day, after discovering some patients were vendors or dealers.

By January 11, 2020, a 61-year-old man was reported as the first death and preliminary lab tests cited by Chinese state media pointed to a new type of coronavirus. By January 13, a Chinese woman was quarantined in Thailand, the first detection of the virus outside China.

Fast-forward to February 27, Nigeria recorded its first case of COVID-19 as an Italian tested positive for the virus. By March 9, a second case of the virus was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State, a Nigerian who had contact with the Italian. As of the time of this report, authorities in more than 200 countries and territories have reported about 81.4 million confirmed COVID 19 cases and 1.8 million deaths since the Chines government disclosed its first coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization in December 2019.

In Nigeria, specifically, the government reported 84,811 confirmed cases, 12,190 active cases, and 1,264 deaths. Besides the human toll, many businesses have bitten the dust. Some are experiencing the last kicks of a dying horse.

Others that have stayed afloat have thrown overboard hundreds of workers to avoid a commercial shipwreck.

As a result, the Nigerian unemployment market has swollen. In 2020, the estimated youth unemployment rate (the percentage of the unemployed in the age group of 15 to 24 years as compared to the total labour force) in Nigeria was at almost 14.2 percent, according to estimates from the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations developing policies to set labour standards.

Generally, in 2020, the unemployment rate in Nigeria was at approximately 7.96 percent. The National Bureau of Statistics reported a high unemployment rate, indicating that in 2018, almost 21 million people in Nigeria were unemployed, which equalled 23 percent of the labour force. Today, Nigeria’s economy has contracted by 6.1 percent year on year in the second quarter and 27 of its labour force (over 21 million Nigerians) are unemployed.

The federal government said it expected Nigeria’s revenue flow to decrease from N5 trillion to N1.1 trillion; a N4.4 trillion-decline from the beginning of 2020. Prices of common goods, like bread and water, increased shortly after a lockdown was enforced on March 30.

A single loaf of bread increased from N350 to N450. Pure, clean household water in Nigeria normally costs about N100, but since the pandemic, the price has doubled. As the consumption of goods, investments, and net exports decrease, Nigeria’s economy is facing a harmful downturn.

Now, the good news

The global disposable face mask market size was estimated at $0.79 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $166.44 billion in 2020. Furthermore, the global disposable face mask market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 53.0 percent from 2019 to 2027 to reach $ 23.8 billion by 2027. This statistic shows the market value of face masks worldwide in 2018, with forecasted figures for 2019 to 2025. In 2018, the global face masks market was valued at about $32.76 billion and was forecast to reach over $50.9 billion by 2025.

Meanwhile, the global disposable face mask market size exceeded $74.90 billion in Q1 of 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 53.0 percent from 2020 to 2027. Nothing but the coronavirus pandemic is driving the demand for face masks. Based on QY’s latest report, the probable scenario about masks year-on-year growth rate for 2020 be 153.1 percent in 2020 and the revenue will be $ 7.24 billion in 2020 from $ 2.86 billion in 2019. The market size of masks will reach $ 3.14 billion in 2026, with a CAGR of -12.99 percent from 2020 to 2026.

A public affairs analyst, Ademola Ekun, wants the Nigerian government to take local production of face masks seriously.

“Nigerians were shocked when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Nigeria was exploring the option to import one million face masks from China. I find such a plan as preposterous in this era when the government should be creating workable strategies to rescue the Nigerian economy from being asphyxiated,” Ekun explains.

He believes that the COVID-19 offers the country an opportunity to help some salvage what is left of their livelihood which has been ravaged by the pandemic.

“By relying on imported face masks from China, Nigeria is inadvertently creating a huge number of jobs in the Chinese economy at the detriment of poor Nigerians,” he argues.

China is the world’s largest manufacture and exporter of masks with its production prior to 2020 accounting for about 50 percent of the world’s output. Ninety percent of American masks are imported from China, and 70 percent of Japanese masks are dependent on China. At present, China’s production of masks is said to have increased more than 10 times to 120 million per day. According to data, the annual output of masks in China in 2018 and 2019 is 4.5 billion and five billion respectively, and the daily output is estimated to be 15 million.

“Simply put,” continues Ekun, “Nigerian policymakers can use face masks as a serious tool to turn around the Nigerian economy for the better. What does it take to produce face masks? Nothing serious.”

Expatiating on his viewpoint, he notes: “Believe me when I tell you nothing serious. Nigeria has both the human and natural resources to produce face masks fit enough for local consumption and the export market.

In Ibadan where I live with my children and grandchildren, I can count at least 300 tailors. One sad thing about these tailors is that there is no business for them because COVID-19 has killed the business of tailoring. Nigerians are more concerned about feeding right now than about wearing clothes.”

But the government can turn things around for these tailors in particular and the economy in general, he asserts. How? According to him, the government can organize the tailors into groups, and make them operate in “school halls where they will be supplied with constant electricity” to enable them to produce face masks.

“I am very sure with such conducive environment, each tailor can make nothing less than N3,000 on a daily basis from producing face masks,” he adds, noting that besides the tailors, other Nigerians will benefit.
“Textile and logistics companies to be engaged in supplying the textiles and transporting the finished products will benefit from this innovation, just as the average Nigerian on the street will gain from this, in the form of affordable, locally-produced face masks.

“If need be, the government can also derive taxes from these locally-made products. This simple innovation on the long run may help to grow the nation’s GDP and reduce unemployment rates. If Nigeria replicates such a set-up in every state, the benefits will be too great to imagine,” he points out.

A Teaser: How Much Can Nigeria Make?

If 80 million Nigerians buy a N100-face mask in a month, the Nigerian mask industry will have made N8 billion. It would be N16 billion if they had purchased the mask at the price of N200. In addition, if that specific number of Nigerians bought a N100-face mask each day for five days (Mondays to Fridays) over a four-week period, the industry would have made N160 billion.

On the other hand, if over the four-week period 80 million Nigerians purchased N200-face mask each day for five days (Mondays to Fridays), the figure would be N320 billion.

In Lagos alone, if five million of its 20 million population bought one N100-mask per month for 10 months, revenue made by the mask market would be N5 billion. Calculating, from August (wearing of masks was made compulsory by the federal government on August 6, 2020) to December, that 80 million people bought the N100-mask, the revenue would be N40 billion. For a N200-mask, the total figure would amount to N80 billion. That is not all.

During those five months, if 80 million Nigerians purchased a N100-face mask each day (Mondays to Fridays) for 20 days every month, individuals and firms dealing in the safety product would have had a revenue of N160 billion. That figure would be N800 billion during that five-month period for a N200-mask.

THISDAY checks suggest that Nigerians are raking in millions of naira from the COVID-19 doom as a new retail market, sales of face masks, experience a boom. It did not sound as good news when the Lagos State government, on April 25, 2020, mandated the use of face masks in public and a couple of months later (August 6), the federal government followed suit. With the compulsory wearing of masks in public, individuals and enterprises may not wish for an end of that government’s directive.

Inventive and enterprising Nigerians, individuals and organisations have seen a way to end their economic doomsday and embrace the boom brought about by the face mask revolution with demand sometimes outstripping supply. From anecdotes, surveys, media reports, and interviews, Nigerians say they are turning their economic misfortunes around by making and selling face masks. Local tailors claim they make each week between N5000 and N7,000 sewing masks. Some have reported being able to pay rents and children’s tuitions from the proceeds. The trick, according to them, is in the volume and discounts given to those who buy from them to resell.

Big players in the face mask business say they get “a lot of” contracts from governments, both at the federal and state level, businesses, and individuals to produce face masks. Sometimes, they produce as much 15,000 packets of masks, each packet containing 100 pieces. They keep a tight lip on how much these are sold. For instance, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency was reported to have spent at N39.33 million for the supply of face masks (for its ‘Supply & Delivery of Face Mask for LGA Training participants. Delivery at NSCS, Abuja’) at a go without stating the number of face masks bought and the price per mask.

Abia State government is one state in Nigeria supporting local producers of face masks as its Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi-Kalu, says, “We are proud of what they are doing and we encourage them and buy off what most of them produce and distribute to government agencies. At present, we are in talks with a Federal Government agency on how some of these local producers will supply them made-in-Aba face masks.”

The state released a N12 million-grant to support tailors to make masks and the money was disbursed to 100 tailors in April. As of August, it was reported that the tailors had produced 200,000 face masks.

The Lagos State government is pushing the same message during the private opening of a large-scale face mask manufacturer, O-Care face mask factory in the state last July, buying 250 cartons of 250,000 units of its face masks. But O-Care’s Managing Director, Cyprian Orakpo, does not hide his ambition, saying: “We want them to buy on a weekly basis because the state consumes a lot of masks especially now that they are giving it free to public schools and it is being supplied to all the health institutions in Lagos.

Face Mask Business Goes Online

From Jumia to Jiji, and Cleaneat, various face masks are on display at different prices. According to cleaneat.com.ng, the price of a face mask in Nigeria depends on the quality and quantity. On its list, ‘The Price of 3 Ply Surgical Mask in Nigeria,’ a pack of mask costs N3, 000 (50 pieces per pack); one carton of masks is sold for N80, 000 (40 packets per carton); the N95 face mask with a respirator (10 pieces per pack) is sold between N25, 000-N34, 000.

Printivo (an online print provider) offers reusable face masks at varying prices and quantities (five pieces, N2, 500; 10 pieces, N5, 000; 25 pieces, N12, 500; 50 pieces cost N25, 000; 500 pieces cost N175, 000, and 1,000 pieces go N350, 000). For Creativebrands.ng, buying online face masks from “Creative Brands,” in reusable face mask packs of four and 10 packs, allows “you the convenience of rotating masks without risking the need to reuse one before you can sanitize it.” Its Eva and Elm adult polycotton costs N715; Eva and Elm adult cotton face mask (N865); adult protective 3 Ply face mask (N123); Eva and Elm Sullivan double-layer adults mask (N616); Eva and Elm Sullivan double-layer kids mask (N533); Eva and Elm Sullivan triple-layer adults mask (N699); and Eva and Elm adult cotton face mask set (N1,689).

The e-commerce distribution channel segment in the face mask market is expected to reach $718.5 million by 2026. One report says this can be credited to the increasingly stringent physical distancing measures put in place by governments, restricting gatherings and sometimes individuals from leaving their houses.
Distributors’ segment revenue crossed $2,435 million in 2020. In addition, as an increasing number of organizations and countries stock up on protective face masks, there will be increased demand from distributors. Also, the availability of several brands and wholesale price accounts for a preference to distributors.

According to Face Mask Market report, most of the key players in the face mask market strategize on promoting their products and services on social media platforms. Social media marketing is one of the major strategies adopted by various companies and industries to create awareness about their product offerings among target customers on social media channels.

“On the smaller side of the spectrum — but bigger in the aggregate — is Etsy. It sold more than 12 million face masks during April totalling around $133 million in sales. It has not published any numbers for May yet. Etsy says face masks represented the second largest category of sales for April,” says the report.

Etsy helped sell $346 million worth of homemade masks; four million people came to Etsy for masks alone, buying nothing else, and 112,000 different sellers made money by selling those masks on the platform. The product marketplace just released its Q2 earnings report, and the company says it helped sell $346 million worth of masks during the pandemic, accounting for 14 percent of all sales across small sellers on the platform.

Gap raked in $130 million in sales from its face masks, which it sells to individuals and in bulk. Its bulk customers include the city of New York, the state of California, and Kaiser Permanente. The company’s strong performance online helped Gap win 3.5 million new customers, up over 165 percent from a year ago.

A few key players in the protective face mask market, according to Statista, are 3M, BSN Medical, Honeywell, Coltene, Cardinal Health, and Dentsply Sirona, which are adopting various combinations of growth strategies to capture larger market share and revenue as they focus on ramping up the production of protective face masks in a bid to combat COVID-19.

Last Word

A media entrepreneur and Founder of The Cable (an online newspaper), Simon Kolawole, says he is in awe of the face mask and will not hesitate to name it ‘2020 Person of the Year,’ intoning that the mask, in 2020, has helped to sustain human survival in the face of existential attack.

Kolawole explains: “I would say 2020 was the Year of the Face Mask. It was the most adorned piece of clothing. It was one little piece of clothing that unified the human race. The divides created by race, gender, religion, and ethnicity fizzled out under the mask. We realised that we are all humans, all said and done. Coronavirus was the leveller. It did not discriminate along the artificial lines that we have segregated humanity.”

Buttressing his point, he says, “We are all wearing the face mask, no matter the colour of our cassock, the hue of our hijab and the tint of our tassels. The face mask is the fabric that ties us together as humanity comes under severe attack. If the face mask was to be a human being, it would be the Person of the Year.”