hen it comes to buying local brands, most consumers complain of low standards.
However, the widespread belief that local products are substandard and inferior to foreign brands is flimsy.
How standard is measured is sometimes ambiguous and reflects negative mentality people harbour against local products.
In our society, people place high value on anything foreign. If a product was secretly produced locally and labelled as foreign product, consumers will still rush for it not knowing it is made in Malawi.
People find much utility in foreign brands, shunning local ones. At worst, high price denotes standard to some consumers who do not critically examine why the product is pricy in the first place.
Recently, I interacted with a long-time friend of mine on our celebrated brands and he talked about some foreign brands.
He asked me, “Are you still taking this brand we used when we were university students? We have now made it in life, when are you going to upgrade to expensive brands?”
Like many, my friend believes a high price tag means high standard. But his argument does not factor in some determinants, including tariffs and customs obligations imposed on foreign products.
The low-priced local brands Malawians consider substandard will be expensive elsewhere if they crossed borders.
The price does not always signify quality. Other factors come into play and should be taken into consideration when judging quality of goods. Otherwise, it may be plain overspending.
Among others, the revised Buy Malawian strategy seeks to confront the negative mindset and stigma slowing sales of Malawian products and control conspicuous spending that sends an unconvincing message regarding imports, trade deficits and foreign reserves.
The concept recognises both mindset and financial bottlenecks faced by local producers, government agencies and other stakeholders. It also mirrors on-going efforts to boost local industries and improve standards through regulation and incentives.
With optimism, there are progressive improvements on local products that create jobs for Malawians and help meet basic demand.
If well implemented, policies and incentives can break the financial barriers and help local producers raise standards.
The question that needs to be addressed is whether Malawians are ready to support or proudly associate with local brands even if the standards are higher than their expectation.
This is crucial because manufacturers are willing to improve quality if the perceived market supports them.
Quality improvement implies additional costs that one can incur if the market looks promising.
What if local producers improved quality, but consumers still held on to the belief that foreign products are superior?
Surely, the local producers will not have the zeal to improve the product again because the investment did not yield any gain.
The nation can remove financial barriers that affect local producers, but the mentality has to change. Negativity can blackwash a success story.
Addressing the toxic mentality is part of behavioural economics. Economic policies and incentives may not significantly help when it comes to mindset change.
It requires one to truly reflect on why Malawians prefer foreign goods to local products. Think about all the hard-earned foreign currency spent on imported goods we can produce locally and how our consumption behaviour exports local jobs.
The private producers should also deeply reflect on consumer psychology and sociology in their marketing campaigns instead of just focusing on pricing.
Together, we can lift the local producers to the standard we desire.