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New SABMiller cassava beer to compete with African moonshine

SABMiller, the world’s second-biggest brewer, launched a cassava beer Tuesday in Johannesburg, hoping an untapped market of low-income Africans will switch from home brew to commercial beer.

The company says the new product, Impala, is the world’s first commercial cassava beer. It will debut in Mozambique and cost 25 percent less than standard barley-based beer.

SABMiller says it is designed to turn poor rural Africans into commercial beer drinkers.

“What we’re trying to do is at a 75 percent price point, to attract consumers up from the illicit spirits or the home brews that they would tend to be consuming,” Mark Bowman, managing director for SABMiller Africa, said at the launch.

“They’re poor consumers generally. This is a rurally oriented product. We want people to gravitate into what is highly aspirational for them, but to some extent unaffordable, with an entry-level beer.”

A 550-millilitre (19-ounce) bottle of Impala in Mozambique will cost 25 meticals, about 93 US cents (66 euro cents).

The beer will be made by SABMiller subsidiary Cervejas de Mocambique at its brewery in the northern Mozambican province of Nampula, the company said.

If it is successful there, SABMiller plans to roll cassava beer out to other African countries.

Bowman said the company estimates the informal alcohol market across Africa could be up to four times the size of the formal market.

SABMiller has already been successful marketing a sorghum beer called Eagle in Uganda. Chief executive Graham Mackay said Eagle is now the company’s largest-selling product there.

Impala is a pale yellow beer similar in taste to the company’s two flagship Mozambican lagers, 2M and Laurentina.

It has a 6.5 percent alcohol content — higher than most commercial beers — and is made from 70 percent cassava and 30 percent barley.

Executives said the company’s biggest challenge was making a commercially viable product from cassava, a starchy root also known as yuca or manioc.

Cassava, which is native to the Americas, is widely grown as a staple crop across Africa but its high water content makes it difficult to store or transport.

SABMiller says it has got around that problem by bringing the production facility to the farmer, using a mobile processing unit developed by the Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company.

A team of technicians travels to small farms with the container-sized unit in tow and processes the farmers’ cassava on-site by removing the water and preparing it for brewing.

SABMiller is touting the project as a boon for rural Mozambicans and says it will create paid employment for 1,500 small-scale farmers and their families.

“Our aspiration is to help transform today’s subsistence farmers into viable commercial operators in their own right,” Mackay said.

He said SABMiller aims to increase the local sourcing of raw materials used in its African operations to 50 percent in the next two years.