New Kenyan brewery to battle beer behemoth

Sun Oct 12, 2008 8:35pm EDT
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By Duncan Miriri

NAIVASHA, Kenya (Reuters) - Standing in a massive burgundy-roofed brewery in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, Timothy Gikuhi peers at an empty bottle, looking for specks of dirt.

The Edinburgh-trained chief brewer knows he needs to be thorough if Keroche, Kenya's newest brewery, is to challenge the might of East African Breweries (EABL), whose beers and spirits dominate the country's buzzing bars.

Kenyan-owned Keroche hopes to tap a spring of consumer patriotism among a growing middle class in east Africa's largest economy when it launches its new beers later this month.

But it will have to take on the world's biggest alcoholic drinks group -- Britain's Diageo Plc.

"We are prepared for the challenge, as long as there is a level playing field," said Gikuhi. "We will tell consumers that our beer is truly owned and brewed by Kenyans."

EABL, a Nairobi bourse blue chip and east Africa's second largest company by market capitalization, is majority-owned by Diageo, maker of Johnnie Walker whisky, Smirnoff vodka and Guinness, a beer popular across Africa.

Multinationals like Diageo and London-based SABMiller dominate Africa's drinks industry, leaving local brewers with small niches in a market where consumption is growing as prosperity swells the ranks of the middle class.

Diageo and SABMiller went head to head in Kenya in the late 1990s in what became known as the Beer Wars.   Continued...

<p>Brewer Timothy Gikuhi holds up an empty beer bottle to inspect its cleanliness in Keroche Brewery, Kenya's second brewery situated in the small town of Naivasha, about 84 km (52 miles) from the capital Nairobi, September 2, 2008. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna</p>