Rwanda’s budding beer industry, which is witnessing a shunt shift from Bralirwa’s monopoly, is struck with unfair competition, requiring stronger measures to contain the vice.
Bralirwa, a subsidiary of Heineken International, is increasingly attracting criticism, mainly from its rivals Brasserie des Mille Collines (BMC) and East African Breweries Ltd for its monopoly and anti-competitive approach.
The entry of both brewers reduced Bralirwa market share by four per cent snatched by EABL and 25 per cent on premium beers by BMC’s Skol.
“We want the ground to be levelled so that we can give the best to our customers,” Thomas Weingarten, the Managing Director of BMC, the manufacturer of Skol beer told Business Times.
Weingarten notes that despite constant calls for measures to contain Bralirwa’s seedy market strategies, it’s (Bralirwa) sales representatives have continued to floor Skol’s advertisements, brandings and threaten retailers to withdraw their coolers and furniture if they insist on selling competing brands.
Emmanuel Muhairwe, a former marketing offical with Crown Beverages says that companies normally give out chairs, tables and coolers as an incentive to entice retailers to stock and sell their products but without a condition of not selling competing brands.
“When you threaten to take the chairs and coolers, and don’t threaten to take back your products, it means that you are stabbing yourself in the back. A customer consuming your brand, too, will not get where to sit,” he said
He however noted that a company may have a right to withdraw its coolers and chairs if the retailer does not abide by the contract signed or is misusing coolers by stocking other brands.
Clairette Ngabo, the acting Director in charge of Competition and Consumer Protection in the Ministry of Trade and Industry said that the government has taken efforts to ensure fair completion and consumer protection.
“We currently have the competition and consumer protection policy and the law is still in draft form but in the final stages in parliament,” she said
Kelly Christophe Niyonshuti, BMC’s commercial representative in Nyanza District on September 30, 2011, wrote to the district police commander of Nyanza District complaining that two Bralirwa staff members, only identified as Gatera and Etienne interfered with a Skol promotional event at Ideal Motel on September 23 this year.
He notes that the two went ahead to distribute free beers, asking people to stop consuming Skol. They later damaged a car belonging to BMC staff members.
“I was cited taking my beer at the table when a staff (member) of Bralirwa brought beer in their car from their depot at Karango and started distributing it at the promotion.
This is when the problem started,” Pridance Munyaneza, a patron at Ideal Motel testified.
Industry experts say Bralirwa seems to be scared of competition and is responding out of impulse as the company could fail to maintain its market share through open competition.
“I understand that Bralirwa still has the potential to take the lead in the market and maintain its lion’s share and there is no doubt that it beats its competitors in production and volumes,” J’damour Rutayisire, a businessman said.
He added: “looking at activities and sponsorships they have done, it shows that it has got closer to its customers.”
In a mini-market survey conducted by The Business Times to ascertain the situation, majority of hotels and bars said they are not compelled to brand their places with a particular company’s brand but rather, they tag along with the products their patrons demand while other respondents alleged that they had been asked not to sell ay other brand.
“For us, we go by what our customers want. We have allowed all companies to bring in their coolers and branding materials,” Mutaganda, a manager at Hilltop Country Hotel in Remera, Kigali, said, noting that many patrons consume Bralirwa’s Primus and its soft drinks more than any other brand in the market.
During the survey, it was also noted that other competing brands have allowed a 20 percent stock of their competing brands in their coolers as a way of levelling the ground to help consumers get the best.