THE WAR between the beer manufacturers has spectacularly spilled into the open with the profusion of colourful lawn umbrellas and matching chairs sprouting all over Kigali, donning the colours of the various brands.
A major player driving the competition for customer attention is Kenya’s East African Breweries Limited (EABL) pitted against local heavyweight Brasseries et Limonaderies du Rwanda (Bralirwa), and Brasseries des Mille Collines (BMC) which is fast asserting its market presence.
As we say where I come from, when the cows graze, they never finish the grass for each other.
So long as the level playing field maintains, there will be enough for everyone as each seeks to grow their market.
What got me thinking about this was a news item about EABL, and how uptake for its high end whisky and spirits, whose prices range between Sh50,000 (Rwf390,000) and Sh100,000 (Rwf780,000) a bottle, grew by 50 per cent over the six months to December 2013 among Kenya’s burgeoning middle income earners and super rich.
I have not heard whether Bralirwa or BMC are locally producing – or distributing – such a pricey tipple.
Nevertheless, at such a price, can such a whisky or spirit be found here in Kigali? It can possibly be found, though I have been hard put to find it.
Is there a market for it? Most certainly, there is a market for it.
Even if it did not exist, markets are created.
For instance, as the EAC countries integrate, all one would have to do is to package and sell Rwanda to these rich Kenyans affording the whisky to pass a weekend here as tourists. This is obvious.
And it has happened. During “Christmas” last December – usually characterized by a long holiday season in Kenya that can run for up to three weeks, beginning just before Christmas Day up to the first week of January in the New Year – I know of a number of families who “ate” their Christmas in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu as they toured “the land of a thousand hills.”
With return airfare per person between Nairobi and Kigali being just slightly more than a fifth of the cost of the Ksh100,000 bottle of whisky, a weekend of carousing in the pristine beauty of the Kivu is quite affordable for these “Social Class A” Kenyans. Just package it, whatever “it” will be, and they will come and spend.
In the mean time, integration of the EAC has resulted to more people, the majority being “the common mwananchi”, moving to an economically resurgent and prospering Rwanda.
Thus the beer wars spilling into the streets in Rwanda, with the EABL, no doubt, chasing after the Kenyans, as well as trying gain traction in the growing Rwandan market.
Rwanda’s beer demand exceeds 1.2 million hectoliters, in which Bralirwa holds sway in the market with the Primus, Mützig, Amstel and Turbo King brands, as well as being the distributors of Heineken under license from it majority shareholder, the Dutch brewing conglomerate, Heineken Group.
EABL, whose majority shareholder is the British multinational alcoholic beverages company, Diageo PLC, distributes the popular Kenyan beer brands, Guinness, Tusker Lager and Malt, and the Ugandan Bell Lager.
BMC, owned by Unibra, the Belgium-based brewery, has the brands Skol, Gatanu 5 and Virunga Mist.
To come back to the EABL high end whiskies and spirits, in case one may want to give it a shot, “a single tot costs between Sh8,500 (Rwf66,300) and Sh10,000 (Rwf78,000) depending on the ambience in which it is served.”
Speaking for myself, like many East Africans, am not averse to enjoying a good social drink at least once or twice a week to unwind. And, like most of them, I aspire to one day be able to afford that high end whisky.
The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues