Rising African tide floats global brewers' boats

Sun Jun 17, 2012 6:43am EDT
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By David Jones and Tiisetso Motsoeneng

LONDON/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - An African has to work three hours on average to afford a beer, compared with 12 minutes for a European, and yet the continent is the global hot spot for beer growth, such that the world's big brewers are struggling to keep pace.

Mark Bowman, Africa boss for global brewer SABMiller, is building new breweries in Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia this year and expanding those in a string of other nations.

His African beer volumes, minus the relatively mature South African market, rose in excess of 10 percent for the last two years as he siphoned off custom from the homebrew sector, which is over three times the formal market.

A booming population and above-average economic performance, backed by buoyant mining and energy industries, are behind the growth, which is running hotter than in Latin America and Asia.

"Africa remains an extremely attractive place for consumer goods companies. From a macro perspective, it has a growing population and is enjoying GDP growth across most markets," Bowman told Reuters.

Four big brewers - SABMiller, Heineken, privately owned Castel and Diageo - control more than 90 percent of the $11 billion African market, and they are ploughing in millions.

Beer is the drink of choice in the upmarket suburban areas of Johannesburg and also in the townships that circle the city, whether it is SABMiller's top brews Castle and Carling Black Label or Heineken's eponymous brew and Amstel, but price is a challenge for less well off drinkers.

The unlicensed shebeens in Alexandra township provide a beer for those returning from work, such as 31-year-old Amstel drinker Siphiwe Dlamini, a part-time film industry worker.   Continued...