The two main players in Rwanda’s beer market are involved in yet another tussle over a draft commercial communication code that seeks to bring about fair competition within the industry by providing commercial communication and marketing standards.
The code outlines rules and guidelines for the industry in terms of packaging, promotion, media and sponsorship, among others.
Brasserie des Mille Collines Ltd (BMC) says that its main competitor, Bralirwa—which controls a huge chunk of the market— drafted the policy without the consent of other players.
“Next month, they will have an official signing with the Ministry of Health and I told them I am not signing,” insists Thomas Weingarten, Managing Director of BMC, the brewer of Skol beer.
He says that instead of a communication code, the market should have a code of conduct.
BMC further says that a former employee of Heineken Group was hired to draft the code, citing a of interest as the Dutch-based brewer largely owns Bralirwa.
“They actually want to restrict it (market) as much as possible for various reasons,” Weingarten says, adding that Bralirwa has maintained its seedy practices despite constant calls for fair competition.
Joy Rucyahana, the proprietor of Gisenyi Prime Lodge, believes that there is need for Bralirwa to take stern action against its agents who he claims are interfering in their (traders) businesses.
Rucyahana cites an incident that took place on April 16 this year, when Bralirwa’s sales representative in the area only identified as Rubangura, allegedly invaded her bar and molested a client he found a client consuming SKOL beer, abused him and poured his drink.
“He went ahead to force his way behind the counter where he pulled down SKOL, Tusker and Smirnoff posters. He was only stopped by our guard from causing more havoc,” Rucyahana mentions in a letter written to the ministry of Trade and Industry, a copy of which The New Times has seen.
However, Jonathan Hall, the Managing Director of Bralirwa, refutes the accusations, saying that Bralirwa has excellent staff who abide by the company’s policies to ensure fair competition.
“We compete on the basis of very strong brands and excellent services to our customers and very attractive margins to our customers.”
He adds, “Bralirwa welcomes competition and it is in the interest of consumers, the market and the government, which is more consumption, more tax revenues.”
The Minister of Trade, Francois Kanimba, in an earlier visit to Bralirwa criticised the country’s largest brewer for abusing its market dominance, adding that the government’s interest is to protect the economy through ensuring free and fair competition.
“We received a lot of complaints, particularly from BMC, criticising Bralirwa for abusing its position as the market leader, and several distributors confirmed these complaints.”
Moreover, the establishment of an ethics code would be a relief to the industry due to the delay in passing of the consumer promotion and competition bill that is currently before parliament. If enacted, the law would ensure fair competition and consumer protection.
Currently, the country has a consumer protection and fair competition policy that is not strong enough to enforce fair competition.