In the brewing world, all eyes are on Africa. SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer, recently said the continent represents huge sales potential, reports Quartz. But only if they can convince Africans to drink more beer.
That’s not to say Africans drink less alcohol than everyone else, they just have a strong culture of homebrewing and distilling. In 2012, the Economist wrote that Africa’s homebrew market was four times bigger than the formal beer market. To try and woo those customers, many of SABMiller’s African beers are made from the sorts of local ingredients that homebrewers use, like cassava (Impala) and sorghum (Eagle and Chibuku). These brands are also priced cheaply, to encourage drinkers to transition into the formal beer market.
Chibuku Super in Zambia. (Photo: SABMiller)
“The informal market continues to dwarf formal alcohol in Africa. While homemade or illicit alcohol poses a potential health risk to consumers, it is considerably cheaper so our challenge is to ensure that we provide price-sensitive consumers with affordable, high quality alternatives,” said SABMiller Africa Managing Director, Mark Bowman, at a company presentation in London.
He also explained SABMiller’s marketing strategy of “developing brands that tap into local pride,” which is something that Guinness has done very successfully. Guinness is owned by Diageo, and the stout accounts for nearly half of the company’s African beer sales, reports Smithsonian Magazine. A version of the beer called Foreign Extra Stout was introduced to British colonies in the late 18th century, and it’s so popular that the continent is now the second largest market for Guinness in the world (the first being the U.K.).
Foreign Extra Stout (Photo: Guinness)
“I’ve talked to Nigerians who think of Guinness as their national beer,” says master brewer Fergal Murray in Smithsonian Magazine. “They wonder why Guinness is sold in Ireland.”
And the brand has capitalized on the fact that many Africans have adopted the brand as their own. In the early aughts, it created an advertising campaign around a fictional journalist named Michael Power, a sort of African James Bond. (In 2003 the character actually starred in a feature film called Critical Assignment, which was released in British and African theaters.)
It also had an excellent 2014 campaign centered on the Sapeurs (society of elegant persons of the Congo), a real life group of people in the DRC with a love of stylish dressing.
Multinationals like Diageo and SABMiller want to turn Africa’s bourgeoning middle class into their fastest growing consumer base. Low prices and local connections are some of the ways they’re going to get Africans to buy more of their beer. Hopefully, that will also create more of a thirst for the continent’s craft breweries, which are gaining popularity in major markets like Kenya and South Africa (and even the tiny island of Mauritius).