On Friday last week, at around midday, a Mr Bienvenue, who operates a bar at Kisimenti area, had very unusual guests.
Two people who introduced themselves as inspectors from Bralirwa approached him in his office and complained to him about the “Bell” painting on his premises.
The supposed Bralirwa inspectors also asked him if he had been given money to consent to the painting. They later left, taking Bralirwa’s light signs with them.
Similar incidents have also been reported in some bars and restaurants, whose walls have been painted with the Bell or Tusker, beer brands that are distributed by East African Breweries Limited (EABL). This is what appears to be Bralirwa’s sharp reaction to plans by EABL to step up its operations in the country.
But Bralirwa’s Commercial Director, Alexander Koch defends the move to repossess the light signs from outlets, whose premises have been re-painted with adverts of other beer brands that are distributed by EABL.
Koch says, that this should only be understood in the context of a normal competitive business environment.
“Business is about partnerships and we make partnerships with bar owners. If they decide to enter into partnership with EABL, we have a right to take back what we have invested in their businesses,” said Koch.
He further said that the company has only been taking light signs away from outlets that have been painted Bell or Tusker after, “negotiating with bar owners based on consumer feedback.”
“From a communication perspective, light signs are a marketing strategy. Having them in outlets that have paintings of EABL products can only send confusing messages to the consumers of our beer products,” Koch added.
Emphasising that his company supports businesses that sell the company’s products, Bralirwa’s Commercial Director said that, “If bar owners decided to enter into partnerships with EABL, they are free to do so.”
Koch dismissed rumours that Bralirwa was in any way involved in a campaign to intimidate, harass or threaten bar owners.
“Bralirwa was not out to play any dirty games,” he said.
Adding that, “The outlets that choose to have EABL painting will still remain our partners because they sell our products.”
Bralirwa has also been painting outlets across the country in an effort to gain further visibility.
On the other hand, EABL in the recent past has been doing wall-branding in selected beer outlets in Kigali City as it gears up to increase its presence in the local beer market.
Andrew Kulayige, EABL Venture Country and Sales Manager says that the company, has previously been operating from Kenya and Uganda. However, they decided to increase their presence in Rwanda’s local market to ensure that clients are at liberty to get what they want.
“The integration of the East African Community has resulted to more people moving to Rwanda. Our expansion plans in the local market are simply an attempt to serve our clients wherever they are,” Kulayige said.
He confirmed that the painting outlets with the colours of Bell or Tusker are just but part of a wider marketing campaign to gain visibility within the Rwandan market.
Although this apparent branding ‘beer battle’ is likely to lead to bars and restaurants being labelled as belonging to Bralirwa or EABL, Koch said, this will not lead to businesses being limited to stocking beer products from a particular bottling company.
“Painting the outlets with EABL’s Bell and Tusker or Primus (Bralirwa’s flagship brand) will only affect visibility but will not lead to product exclusivity,” Koch said.
Whatever, the customer’s choice in what beer they can drink or not, Rwanda’s market has expanded showing the brighter picture of competition as a means to better service delivery and development.