Appetite for growth drives beer war in Nigeria

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A strong appetite for growth is at the centre of the current war raging among brewing giants scrambling for the Nigerian beer market.

Imara, a pan-African financial services group, which parades a team of investment researchers which monitors developments in Nigeria explains that the scramble for the all-important African liquor market is because of its steady growth prospect.

The fact that the beer market which is already growing by about 7 percent a year, in volume terms, suggests continued growth is in prospect, stated an exclusive report made avialable to BusinessDay.

Imara’s team of investment researchers monitors developments in Nigeria as a dedicated Nigerian equities portfolio. This portfolio features strongly in the group’s suite of internationally marketed sub-Sahara investment funds.

Jonathan Chew, manager of the Imara Nigeria Fund, reports that SABMiller is about to disturb “what was a cosy duopoly,” by entering a Nigerian brewing industry that has been dominated for years by Guinness and Nigerian Breweries.

Figures from the Imara researchers indicate robust market growth potential for successful players in the country’s non-oil sector.

The Nigerian economy grew by an annualised 7.4 percent in the first quarter. The non-oil economy was the major driver, growing by 8.5 percent versus the 2.9 percent contribution from the oil economy. Recent profit figures from the brewing industry suggest that Nigeria’s beer barons, share fully in the non-oil upsurge.

The Imara report states that first quarter sales at Nigerian Breweries were up 30 percent while net profits have risen by 22.7 percent. For the three months to the end of March, Guinness announced sales growth of 11.4 percent and a rise in net profit of 32 percent.

It would be recalled that SABMiller, South Africa’s world brewing giant, had in 2009, bought Pabod Breweries, Port Harcourt, where it now owns 57 percent shares; Voltic Nigeria Limited (Voltic produces tablewater), Lagos, owning 80 percent of the company, and Standard Breweries in Ibadan.

With these companies, SABMiller is giving itself a soft landing in the Nigerian brewery market. For about five years, the brewer had attempted to open shop in Nigeria.

Also in its quest to tap into a $3 billion (N45.9 billion) informal market, SABMiller is encouraging farmers to raise cassava and barley for its new discount beers.

In a response to SABMiller’s entry into the Nigerian market, Heineken N.V., Nigerian Breweries Plc parent company, stepped up the struggle for domination of the Nigerian beer market in Nigeria with its acquisition of two holding companies from the Sona Group which has controlling interests in five breweries in Nigeria.

Heineken’s purchase of Sona Group’s Sona Breweries Plc, Sango Ota, Ogun State; International Beer & Beverages Ind. Ltd., Kaduna State; Champion Breweries Plc, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State; Life Breweries Co. Ltd, Onitsha, Anambra State and Benue Brewery Ltd, Makurdi, Benue State is seen by industry players as a move to strengthen Nigerian Breweries position in the Nigerian beer market and an obvious response to SABMiller’s entry into Nigerian market. Of the five breweries being acquired, Champion Breweries is listed.

The acquisition provides Heineken with an additional technical capacity of 3.7 million hectolitres, helping to alleviate the company’s current apacity constraints in the market and improving the geographic location of its breweries.

Only recently, Guinness Nigeria Plc, the local unit of Diageo Plc (DGE), heightened the ongoing beer war tempo by announcing plans to spend 52 billion naira ($335.8 million) on expanding brewing capacity in Nigeria this year. The Guinness move, is seen as a response to the Heineken N.V.’s acquisition of two holding companies from the Sona Group, which has controlling interests in five breweries in Nigeria, and SABMiller Africa’s entry into Nigeria. Devlin Hainsworth, the managing director of Guinness, explaining the rationale for the acquisition, had said in Abuja: “We’re lifting capacity of two existing plants in Ikeja and Benin.”

The expansion project will create about 2,000 jobs and it is expected to be completed before December, Hainsworth had further said.

Industry watchers, interestingly, say the Heineken move is clearly a smooth strategy aimed at puncturing SABMiller’s soft-landing bid.

SABMiller which currently operates from Port Harcourt has moved Voltic Nigeria Limited from Lagos to the south-East, and is also putting up a brewing plant in Onitsha.

Heineken, meanwhile, appears determined to take the battle to the South African investor. By so doing, analysts say, it will enable Heineken to take advantage of the attractive future growth opportunities that exist in different regions of the country.

The acquired breweries will continue to provide and expand contract brewing services to Nigerian Breweries and Consolidated Breweries for the time being, while continuing to own, brew and support the Goldberg, Williams Dark Ale and Malta Gold brands, as well as various smaller regional brands.

BusinessDay investigations however reveal that with the current expansion in the nation’s brewery sector, firms in the sector will benefit from economies of scale and huge volume of foreign direct investment, innovations and its attendant healthy competition.

A Vetiva Research, meanwhile, predicts a booming market for investors in the beer market in Nigeria. It argues that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the Nigerian economy is estimated to grow at an average of 7 per cent over the next four years while the population is expected to grow at c.3 per cent.

“This, along with a youthful population enmeshed in a culture in which entertainment has gained a foot-hold, presents key drivers for the Nigerian beer market. A growing, largely youthful population, with increased disposable incomes is expected to drive beer consumption, leading us to estimate that the Nigerian beer market will grow at an average of 8 per cent over the next five years,” the Lagos based research company says.