Heineken’s beer scramble for African drinkers

Multinational brewer Heineken, as of 15 November 2021, has made a R40.1bn offer to Distell, a global brewing business based in South Africa. The bid pushes the beverage company as frontrunner in the Beer scramble for the African continent.

This move demonstrates that the global liquor producer believes that South Africa and Namibia have gateway potential to the rest of the continent, viewing it as an untapped market for new female drinkers in particular.

The proposed merger will split Distell into two separate units. One will contain the cider, spirits and wine business and will be combined with Heineken’s interests in Southern Africa, including Namibia, into a company called Newco..

The deal has potential to expand even further into Africa, women in markets such as Kenya have been embracing Hunter’s Dry, one of its top-selling cider brands.

According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, countries in sub-Saharan Africa are now bearing the heaviest burden of alcohol-related disease and injury.

WHO also predicts an expected growth in the total amount of alcohol consumed in the African region, This is due to the growth of new alcohol consumers, especially young people and women that companies like Heineken are gunning for.

Irene Kauzuu-Muinjangue, SAAPA Namibia’s Country Liaison Officer shares her concern for Heineken’s bid for new female drinkers, “Heineken being advertised as a new brand and being rated as the top brand in Namibia, the consumption will be high, and the main fear is the increase of excessive alcohol that is already a huge distress.”

‘‘Namibia is battling to control the chronic diseases and alcoholic addictions among the vulnerable and this are increasing the pressure on our health system to treat the developed chronic diseases and other serious problems,’’ she says.

Prevalence of alcohol use in the past year among women was estimated at 47% in Namibia, while in SA female drinkers are 20% of the population.

An unintended consequence of the Heineken’s objective to expand Africa’s women drinkers may be the prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), South Africa has the highest recorded prevalence of FAS in the world, with births ranging from 29 to 290 per 1000 births as of 2017.

Kauzuu-Muinjangue says the increased access to alcohol will increase the FAS problem in her country, “Women who drink heavily and who have children with [ Foetal Alcohol] FAS are likely to have heavy drinking in their families of origin and in their peer groups and it has been a concern for our Civil Society Organizations and the Health system as is on the rise already.’’

by Keamogetswe Mosepe