America invades Libya again, dropping buns not bombs
After 42 years, the country formerly known as the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is getting its first taste of consumer capitalism in an unlikely form: sweet, sticky cinnamon rolls.
Business Week reported that Cinnabon, the Atlanta-based bakery chain, is at the vanguard of a potential business boom in the North African country, which deposed dictator Gaddafi last year in a bloody civil war. In July the unit of Focus Brands became the first U.S. franchise to open since the revolution, with a two-level Tripoli outlet. It’s become a popular destination in a city with few diversions for residents.
Cinnabon’s bet on Libya—it plans to open at least 10 new locations over the next five years—shows the perils and potential of this wealthy new consumer market, which is being eyed by a growing number of foreign companies.
Yes, Libya has a rickety electricity grid and few formal property rights. And due to ongoing sectarian violence, it remains a dangerous place. But the country sits atop Africa’s biggest oil reserves, which may generate as much as $55 billion for the state oil company this year.
That means there are plenty of well-off locals and expats who can afford to pay for a Western-style sweet.
The country is a less incongruous place for Cinnabon than one might expect. Syrupy treats like baklava are beloved in Libya, as in other Arab countries, so local palates are ready-made for the chain, explains Mike Shattuck, president of Focus Brands International. What’s more, in a Muslim country where bars are almost nonexistent, young people need places to hang out.
Finally, an influx of investment from Persian Gulf property developers means “down the road there’s no question there will be a big mall culture,” providing the natural habitat for future Cinnabon outlets.
For now the Tripoli store is very much a foreign oddity. Positioned as more upscale than the chain’s food court roots in the U.S., the shop has become a fixture on Gargaresh Road, Libya’s Fifth Avenue, where it attracts an affluent clientele. The prices are First World as well: A cinnamon bun and a regular coffee cost 6.50 dinars, or about $5.15, close to the price in the U.S.