The Growing African Beer Market

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It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the bars in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, are already filling up with small groups of drinkers, sheltering from the stifling heat with a beer and “Nyama Choma” barbecued meat.

The city’s watering holes, which are typically informal beer gardens with plastic tables and chairs, are in for a good night, yet there is something bothering James Bokella.

The district manager for Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL), which is majority owned by global beer giant SABMiller, has spotted something while doing the rounds of the capital’s bars and kiosks that sell his company’s lagers such as Castle and Safari.

An advertising war has broken out on the streets of Dar es Salaam between TBL, the country’s biggest brewer, and its arch-rival Serengeti, which was bought by Diageo in 2002

Marketing in Africa goes well beyond billboards and TV adverts and drinks companies fight hard to persuade bar owners their properties should be painted top to bottom in the colours of their beer brands.

On this occasion, Serengeti has hijacked a centrally-located pub heavily branded with TBL’s Castle Lager with its own bright yellow Serengeti gazebos.

It may seem trivial but in Africa, global giants like SABMiller, Diageo and Heineken are ploughing millions of pounds into marketing as they jostle for position in the continent’s rapidly expanding drinks industry.

The big listed drinks groups have long been investing in emerging markets such as China and Latin America to counteract falling demand in mature markets, particularly Europe.

But industry veterans such as SABMiller executive chairman Graham Mackay are now referring to Africa as the most important growth story of the next decade.

“If you talk about the immediate runway for growth, I don’t think there’s anything that beats Africa,” said Mackay.

Most of the “big four” in Africa – France’s Castel, SABMiller, Heineken and Diageo – have long associations with the continent, some going back well over 100 years.

Over the next two decades consumer companies are forecasting Africa will be hit by a positive “perfect storm” of a booming population, above average GDP growth and riches generated by rapidly expanding mining and energy industries.

“All of that together makes Africa at this moment really the sweet spot,” says Siep Hiemstra, president for Africa & the Middle East at Heineken.

Take one look at the raw statistics and it’s easy to understand their optimism. Already, one-in-six people in the world is African. But population growth for the continent, at 2.4pc, far outpaces even other emerging markets such as Latin America and Asia, where populations are expanding at just over 1pc.

Twelve out of the 25 fastest growing economies in the world are also on the African continent.

“We have got everything leaning our way,” says Mark Bowman, SABMiller’s managing director for Africa. “From around 2000, GDP growth has progressed at a solid pace – 6pc to 8pc – which, by developed country growth rates, is very high. By our forecasts that will continue for 20 years. “In 20 years, you’ll have 2bn people [on the continent] and that’s a tremendous opportunity for consumer businesses.”

Then there is the average consumption of beer per capita in Africa. At eight litres compared with 35 litres in the rest of the world, they believe there is a rich pool of potential customers.

Trevor Stirling, drinks analyst with Sanford C Bernstein, estimates the industrial beer market in Africa was worth $10.9bn (£7.1bn) in revenue in 2010 and $2.5bn of earnings before interest and tax.

But it is also estimated that 75pc of the drinks market on the continent is still dominated by cheap home brews or illicit spirits.

Drinks companies believe many of these consumers can be converted to industrially-produced lagers and spirits as they move up the wealth chain. “We believe there is little doubt that Africa will be one of the engines of growth for the beer category in the next decades,” Mr Bernstein wrote in a research note.

There are few better illustrations of the fierce rivalry between the drinks majors than in East Africa, where a nine-year agreement between SABMillers’s TBL and Diageo’s East Africa Breweries was aborted last year.

Diageo decided to go it alone in Tanzania by snapping up a 51pc stake in TBL’s main rival, Serengeti Breweries, while SABMiller is making in-roads in Diageo and Heineken strongholds such as Nigeria, where it is building a new greenfield brewery.

SABMiller, Africa’s biggest brewer, is currently still ahead of the game, with an estimated 40pc share of profits across the region, including South Africa. The FTSE 100 group also has a 20pc stake in France’s Castel, which is in second place.

Heineken last year expanded its presence on the continent with the acquisition of two hard-fought Ethiopian state breweries and is the third biggest player – claiming about 17pc of earnings according to Sanford C Bernstein.

Diageo, number four, is also ploughing billions of pounds into expansion in Africa at the behest of its chief executive, Paul Walsh, who wants half of the group’s revenues to come from emerging markets by 2014. “We have invested about £1.5bn in capacity expansion and acquiring new business in the past five years in Africa,” says Diageo’s president for Africa, Nick Blazquez.