Multinational brewers target Nigerians in African beer wars

Restaurant and club owners say they are being courted by the beer companies with unprecedented amounts of cash.
Used beer bottles are seen entering a washing machine that removes labels and does a preliminary wash at the InBev beer factory, in Ogun State, on November 11, 2018. – International beer companies are going head to head for a share of the lucrative beer market in Africa’s most populous country. (Photo by STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP)

Gigantic billboards advertising beer now dominate the skyline of Nigeria’s megacity, Lagos, signalling the escalating battle between multinational brewers for drinkers in Africa’s most populous country.

So far it’s a largely untapped market, with Nigerians consuming on average just nine litres (around 16 British pints) of beer a year, well below South Africans’ 57 litres, according to market research firm Euromonitor.

But with more than half of Nigeria’s 190 million people aged under 30 – and the population expected to grow to 410 million by 2050 – the world’s biggest beer companies are beginning to elbow in.

For years, Nigerian Breweries has dominated the sector with brands including Gulder, Star and  Heineken.

However, its iron grip on the market is under threat from mega-brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev.

It recently opened a new factory outside Lagos and launched Budweiser to face off against Heineken, in a fierce contest for millennial drinkers being played out across Africa.

Promotions have become an arms race among the beer companies as they host concerts, fashion weeks and boat parties to win over customers.
Restaurant and club owners say they are being courted by the beer companies with unprecedented amounts of cash.

“The big guys started noticing there was a new sheriff in town,” AB InBev plant manager Tony Agah told AFP. “It’s the beer wars.”

But for all the headaches, the promise of Nigeria is too great to pass up.
“The thing about the Nigerian market is that, long term, there are huge opportunities,” said Nigerian Breweries marketing director Emmanuel Oriakhi.

“There is a massive home brew category with people making all sorts of alcohol in their backyard, beer is an opportunity to premiumise their experience.”

Oriakhi is sanguine about AB InBev’s investment in Nigeria.

“We’re very comfortable in any battle,” he said with the confidence of having around 60% of the market share.

“They’re welcome and it makes the market interesting,” he said with a smile.

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