Nigerians love their beer writes Tunde Mogaji. It is estimated that Nigerians consume close to 18 million Hectolitres of beer every year, coming second only to South Africa. Mid-stream lager products contribute the highest to this figure.
Findings however reveal that while beer consumption in the Western world is slowing down due to global economic downturn, reverse is the case in Nigeria as it’s actually pretty common sight to see beer parlours/joints where people go to drink and relax in most neighborhoods irrespective of their social status.
Indeed, studies show that Nigeria with the largest population in Africa, a growing middle class and a large number of drinking-age consumers, the brewing multinationals operating in the country may be jockeying for positions in a market that shows plenty of room for expansion.
Notwithstanding the amount of pressure on consumer spending given the uncertainties in the economy, higher cost of living and security challenges which have all led to the drag in the volume growth among major players in the sector, Nigeria’s beer market is still rated among the 10 fastest growing beer markets in the world. It boosts of a global market share of 1.9 percent, which is slightly close to the Indian beer market which stands at 3.2 percent and occupies the seventh place in the global ranking.
However, the last two years have witnessed an upsurge in market competition among key players especially in the saving brands category in the Nigeria’s lager market.
Noticeably; it is no longer a two horse race between Nigerian Breweries and Guinness. SABMiller, leading South African beer company entry into The Nigerian market few years ago, has further compounded and made the market a lot more complex that it used to be. Consumers no longer determine quality of beer with ‘cheap’ or rather affordable price, players have to up the ante through products improvement and brands repackaging.
As the competition gets intense every single day; consumers and beer enthusiasts are thrilled by series of campaigns aimed to attract their attention and a share of wallets. Concerts, sponsorship of traditional festivals, partnership with football associations, massive marketing campaigns in the mass media, among others are some of the ways breweries have devised to deepen consumers’ engagement. However, today’s reality is that brand custodians are struggling to reach skeptical audiences that have become largely bored by traditional brand communications devices.
According to Jeremy Bullmore , consumers now build a perception or an image of the brand just exactly the same way birds build nests from scraps and straw which they chance upon.
Worst hit in this “power play” is Guinness’ Harp lager beer. Its attempts to exert and enforce or marshal its lager brand in the market have been noted to achieve little of no effect as consumers themselves have actually become important brand-builders.
Brands have come to realize that every region has their preferred taste and needs, as consumers now choose what they want themselves.
In line with this, SABMiller has succeeded in introducing quality and affordable beer into the Nigerian market choosing to operate from the flanks instead of the Harps’ national outlook. Nigeria Breweries Plc has similarly built a war chest of quality but affordable lager brands through the acquisition of some regional breweries. These regional champions doing exploits for NB in the affordable beer segment include Goldeberg; ”33” Export; Life lager brands. They are marketed differently from the company’s mainstream premium brands – Star, Gulder and Heineken. Guinness owners of Harp, is yet to find a response to this regional affinity and empathy question in marketing its brands.
For instance, in the southwest market dominated by Yorubas, SABMiller and NB strategies are tailored to capture the Yoruba speaking people; Trophy and its ‘Hononourable’ campaign gives Nigerian Breweries’ Goldberg a fight for its money. Goldberg in response to the competition launched ‘His Excellency’ campaign.
In eastern Nigeria, dominated by Igbos, one of the three biggest ethnic groups in the country with population over 40 million, SABMiller’s Hero Lager is popularly called “Oh Mpa” or “Oh Father”. The name given to the brand in memory of late Chukwuemka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Biafran leader, tagged ‘the Hero of the Igbos’ for coming up with the idea an independent nation of Biafra in the 1960s.
The Hero Lager bottle bears the rising sun that appeared on the Biafran flag and that resonates with the Igbo people.
In the same market, NB Plc boasts of its “Life Continental Beer” which aligns with the progress of the people of the South East. According to the Brand Marketing Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Agu, ”This is evident through our on-going project – Life Progress Booster. “Music is important to the Igbo people, especially highlife music”. The brand activation parades highlife legends like Osita Osadebe; Celestine Ukwu; Oliver De Coque and many others to amuse its target market and the population in general.
These regional brands have within a short time become a force to be reckoned with and they have found their ways into the heart of consumers as the brands now become the preferred choice and market leaders in their respective regions. These proactive marketing activities have further complicated Guinness’ Harp’s situation hence strangulating its national market penetration activities.
Although, at a point Guinness Nigeria introduced Dubic beer to ward-off competition from its Harp Lager, it also silently changed the premium status of Satzenbrau lager brand and brought down the price to become a fighter brand, but these are yet to have any significant impact on the company’s performance in mid-stream lager category where competition brands are making sway.
Where did Guinness Nigeria Plc get it wrong? Can its hitherto famous “Harp for happiness” lager regain its lost ground? Perhaps the company’s innovation strategy has to be reviewed vis-a vis the deft acquisition spree demonstrated by the competition. It is the time the company deployed innovation strategy relevant to the Nigerian unique market environment in other to enhance the company’s performance in the most important segments of the market or else its foot-marks in the lager segment will become history faster than anyone could think.
Innovation is great, and Guinness deserves some commendation here for its R&D on Origin and a few other new products, the company should also be innovative in pushing and protecting its position in market so as not to lose ground to competition. This is the case right now. Guinness Diageo has reconsider its strategy in Nigeria, turnaround the tide or its future becomes bleak!
Mogaji ‘Tunde, is a marketing communications practitioner with expertise in experiential marketing and media relations services, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 08056145926