African beer keeps head as other markets go flat

Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:22pm EDT
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By Alistair Thomson and Joe Bavier

DAKAR/KINSHASA (Reuters) - As the sun sets over the Congo River, drinkers trickle into Kinshasa's "Staff Franc Congolais" bar, testament to the resilience of Africa's thirst for beer even in difficult places and tough times.

"I get by. The Congolese drink every day. It's a distraction -- there's no world crisis as far as beer is concerned," says a co-owner, known as "Franc Congolais" after the local currency.

He adopted the nickname when rebels seized the vast country, formerly Zaire, in 1997 and changed its name back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Its many violent upheavals habitually involve looting, although residents say breweries are mostly left untouched.

"If I can sell 120 bottles at 200 francs ($0.25) profit each in a day, that's enough for me," Franc Congolais said.

Big brewers operating in Africa may be slower to dismiss the threat from the global economic crisis that has caused economic havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.

Some brewers report a slowdown in sales growth, but they say Africa nevertheless offers rich expansion prospects compared with elsewhere, and even reduced growth on the continent will outstrip that of other regions this year.

"For sure we're seeing an impact, but still Africa is in growth, is providing more growth than many other parts of the world, and that's the environment where we're operating," said Nick Blazquez, Diageo's managing director for Africa.   Continued...

<p>A worker checks a beer bottle at the Nile Brewery Company 76km (46 mile) east of Uganda's capital Kampala, March 31, 2009. BEER-AFRICA/ REUTERS/James Akena</p>