Fresh beer wars as brewers expand

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Global brewing giants are increasingly setting their eye on East Africa as the prime direction for new investment as returns in Western markets decline, analysts said.

Giant brewers Diageo and SAB Miller have over the past few months closed several deals in the East African market, setting the stage for fresh beer wars to be fought mainly in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzanian markets.

SABMiller-owned Nile Breweries Ltd has injected Ush190 billion ($80 million) in the construction of a new beer and mineral water plant, doubling the capacity of the subsidiary as it seeks shorter distribution times in the lucrative western Uganda region.

This brings the brewer’s investment in Africa up to $1.75 billion over the past four years. Diageo has also invested more than $1 billion during the period and it is planning to go big in the wider East African market with the privatisation of Ethiopian breweries.

In Uganda, previous expansion at Nile Breweries Jinja plant helped raise the brewer’s output, but fierce competition in the market dictated by quick distribution cycles has sent NBL looking for fresh strategies to reach consumers faster.

“After completion of the new plant, we expect to save roughly six hours per delivery trip and this will greatly improve efficiency in distribution activities,” NBL managing director Nick Jenkinson said, adding that the company will save between $4 million and $5 million per year on distribution costs.
Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL), the local subsidiary of East African Breweries Ltd is NBL’s main competitor but appears unruffled by the latter’s ambitious expansion.

“We are still expanding production capacity at our Kampala plant. Though western Uganda boasts a fast growing beer market, we believe quicker distribution times and higher working capital among agents will help us deepen penetration in that market,” said a senior executive at UBL, who requested anonymity.

UBL has managed to maintain an average of 5-10 days of beer stocks among agents and this has boosted brand popularity for its flagship products like Senator and Bell.

Annual growth in western Uganda’s beer market is projected at 20 per cent per year, coupled with a consumer base that contributes 40 per cent of Nile Breweries’ total sales estimated at 12 million crates of beer per annum.

Kenyan-based East Africa Breweries Ltd (EABL) has recently invested millions of dollars to boost capacity of its subsidiaries in Tanzania and Uganda. EABL has also doubled capacity of its Ugandan subsidiary at a cost of $19 million at its Port Bell plant and at its Moshi-based plant owned by its unit Serengeti Breweries Ltd at a cost of US$ 40 million. EABL is owned by 50.03 percent by Diageo.

“The boosting of production capacity by EABL and SABMiller is set to intensify ongoing battles for control of the regional beer market,” said Tanzania Securities Ltd chief executive Moremi Marwa.

The moderate growth in per capita GDP is driving the growth potential of the local alcohol beverage industry in Tanzania and region. SABMiller has opened a new plant in South Sudan, made a re-entry into the Kenyan market through its local subsidiary Crown Beverages.

“The East African market still has opportunities for the beer market to grow, even consumption of beer and spirits is still low in the region; that means there is a gap which needs to be filled,” said Joel Nkya, an analyst with Tanzania Securities Ltd.

By Paul Redfern, Bernard Busuulwa and Leonard Magomba.