SABMiller steps up market share war with EABL

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SABMiller is set to launch its third beer in Kenya on Thursday, setting the stage for deepened rivalry with East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) and Heineken.

It is targeting the premium end of the local beer market with its US brand Miller Genuine Draft, which will be sourced from its Tanzania’s brewing plant. This segment is currently served with rival beers Heineken and Tusker Malt.

The London-listed firm’s entry will open a new battlefront between Diageo through EABL and SABMiller via its local subsidiary Crown Beverages.

“We are launching on December 8 at the Lady Lori, Wilson Airport and our target is the high margin premium market,” said a source at Crown Beverages who sought anonymity.

The new beer is owned by US-based brewer MillerCoors, which is 58 per cent owned by SABMiller, but is brewed by Tanzania Breweries Limited.

SABMiller has been distributing two brands— Redds and Castle Lager sourced from Tanzania through Crown Beverages —which it bought late last year after taking control of family-owned Crown Foods, the bottlers of Keringet drinking water.

The addition of a third brand to its stable signals the firm’s eagerness to gain a foothold in Kenya months after it officially ended a distribution agreement with EABL

SAB Kenyan subsidiary Castle Brewing shut down in 2002, forcing them to enter an uneasy distribution agreement with EABL after the SABMiller predecessor bought 20 per cent stake in EABL in a share swap. The deal was terminated last year after EABL opted out.

Its increased activity in the local market after the recent re-launch of its Redds brand is expected to spark off intensified rivalry with EABL, which in recent days has introduced new brands such as Tusker Lite and Pilsner Ice to defend and grow its stake in the competitive business environment.

Dutch brewer Heineken has also opened its regional headquarters in Nairobi to help push its brands.
It has been supplying its flagship Heineken beer through a local distributor, Maxam Limited, which is associated with businessman Ngugi Kiuna and has held the franchise since 2007.

Heineken is set to hire a marketing team headed by Koen Morshuis, the general manager East Africa, to get a larger share of the East African market. “After doing research we saw the results and think it’ is time to put people here (Nairobi office) and we shall have a huge marketing push,” Morshuis told the Business Daily recently. The global brewing giants are seeking a stronger foothold in emerging countries where beers sales are still rising compared to Europe and the US.

Data from Japanese investment banks Nomura show that beer consumption increased in Africa, Asia and Latin America by four per cent, 4.8 per cent 2.7 per cent respectively in 2010 as volumes dropped in North America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe by 1.5 per cent, 2.3 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively.

East Africa is increasingly becoming a battle zone between SABMiller and Diageo led EABL.

Already, a vicious battle for dominance is under way in Uganda between Uganda Breweries, owned 98.2 per cent by EABL, and Nile Breweries, which is 60 per cent owned by SABMiller.

In Tanzania, Diageo through EABL ended a partnership with SABMiller over the running of Tanzania Breweries Limited and bought a majority stake in rival Serengeti Breweries last year.

This has set off a vicious market share war between the hitherto business partners. The number three global brewer, Heineken, has been a late entrant into Africa but wants to build its stake after clinching share deals in Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia in recent months.