By Alloy Ayozie, Umuahia
Ten years ago, beer market was ruled by brands from two major breweries in Nigeria, namely Nigerian Breweries PLC and Guinness Breweries Nig PLC. While Guinness Nigeria is owned by Diageo, a global brand, Nigerian Breweries is owned presently by Heineken Breweries which has continued to increase its stake in Nigeria Breweries PLC.
However, the entrance of SAB Miller brewery group from South Africa into the Nigerian market late 2011 changed the dimensions of lager beer production, marketing, consumption and branding in the country, particularly in the South East. Ten years after, a premium brand from the Nigerian subsidiary of Sab Miller, Hero, has become the ruler of drinking tables in the entire South East States and even carving a big market share in South-South markets.
The birth of Hero beer was made possible through the business acumen of Mr Peter Obi, the meticulous administrator per excellence who was the executive Governor of Anambra State. It is on record that before he became Governor, Obi was a successful businessman whose interests cut across banking, whole and retail sales, manufacturing, branding, consulting etc.
When Obi became Governor, his business touch was brought to bear. This accounts for how Mr Peter Obi brought in the foreign brewing giants into Nigeria, to invest in his home State of Anambra.
While Sab Miller controls about 65% shares in the investment, Anambra State government and some individuals also own the remaining shares. It is believed that companies belonging to Obi controls substantial shares in Sab Miller’s Nigerian subsidiary.
After it successfully acquired Pabod Breweries in Port Harcourt and Interfact Breweries in Onitsha, Sab Miller hit the ground running, armed with complete results of researches it conducted on Nigeria bear sub sector over the years.
It engaged the services of a marketing/branding company, Dijo communications which produced series of advertising and marketing campaigns to launch Hero into the highly competitive market.
To achieve this task of carving a niche for Hero, Dijo communications used Biafra rising sun logo to design the logo of Hero, with a sharp reminiscences to Ndigbo, about the land of the rising Sun.
As if that was not enough, it carved a local name, Oh Mpa ( my father ! for the Beer, in a branding stunt reportedly designed to honour and mourn the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Eze Ndigbo gburugburu who passed on in 2011, a year before the launch of Hero.
These two strategies of Biafra logo and Ojukwu exploits immediately endeared the new beer to the hearts of Igbo, especially the advanced adult population who saw the beer as a consoling tonic and healing balm to them whenever they remembered their travails and exploits during the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. The marketing style adopted a demographic system, never engaged before in branding campaigns by a beer maker.
Soon after, the youth population of the Igbo nation keyed into Hero and this helped the beer to gain more spaces on the drinking tables as well as stamp its feet on the market. But the entrance of Hero sent a cold air into some already established brands in the market, which deployed large volume of sustained advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at retaining their age-long customers.
By beginning of 2013, there were silent outcries from makers of Hero that a popular brewery in Nigeria was mopping up its bottles from the market and crushing them. This was, according to the allegations, to stop Hero from making further progress in the market which would in the end frustrate it into abandoning the beer business.
Not perturbed by the vicissitudes, makers of Hero invested in heavy taste quality maintenance, ensuring that the 5.2 % alcohol content in their bottle did not shift from its taste, a feat not easy to achieve in a contemporary Nigeria beer segment. It is of note that only Heineken beer, Guilder and small Stout, according to industry reports, have tried over the years to maintain their taste qualities in Nigeria among other beers.
Only Hero has been able to match this feat and that flag of quality assurance has remained in place till now, thereby enabling Hero to enjoy brand loyalty of its consumers as well as winning more numbers of converts. The success of the beer in the South East is also attributable to some appealing advertising campaigns which are most times emotional and conjuring in nature, with short stories on TVs, social media, radio programs as well as the use of Nkem Owoh (Osuofia) and other notable Igbo artists in delivering these messages.
Apart from the South East areas, major cities in the South-South like Port Harcourt, Calabar, Uyo, Benin, Warri and Asaba have also ‘fallen’ to Hero while in Lagos, the beer has also become a first choice for Igbo.
This success story in South South cannot be subtracted from the fact that Igbo population buzzes in all cities of the federation. But a marketing consultant, Prince David Arukwe told The New Orientals that the success story of Hero has transcended geographical, tribal and age boundaries in the country as the beer is able to maintain its pace because of the quality it possess. Arukwe noted that Hero is a strong beer which rewards its consumer with satisfaction.
“If you don’t have enough money in your pocket, a bottle of Hero can serve you for the evening. Unlike some brands which you need to take two bottles before having the feel of satisfaction. And someone may inquire about where Hero gains its financial strength when Nigeria’s economy is wobbling.
There is no need for this puzzle as Sab Miller Breweries; the parent body of Hero is the world’s largest brewery. In 2016, Sab Miller, a South African brewery merged with AB Inbev, a Belgian multi-national brewery, to form Sab Miller AB Inbev, making it the global market leader above the former leader, Heineken of Holland.
With that merger, Sab Miller became the world’s number one brewery, producing up to 467.4m hectolitres of beer. They benched Heineken brewery which produced 221.6 hectolitres. Third and fourth on the table are Carlberg of Denmark and China Res Snow with 110.1m and 106.9m hectolitres respectively.
Buoyed by their enormous investment war chest, Sab Miller staked initial investment of $100m in Onitsha brewery which was commissioned on August 30, 2012. Not resting, it further invested about $110m to increase the capacity of of Onitsha brewery from 700 to 2.1 million hectolitres.
With these explanations, the sky is seems not to be the limit for Hero, as it is endowed with a global background to explore every available opportunity in the Nigeria beer market, especially the lager section.
The success of Hero in the hostile beer market could be likened to the post 1970 Igbo renaissance where Igbos rebounded to become leaders in business. A management consultant, Dr Simon Nduka credited the success of Hero to Mr Peter Obi, ex-Governor of Anambra State for the success of the East-made product.
He noted that the success story of Hero puts a lie to claims that no business established on Eastern soil would survive.
Many drinking joints and some major beer distribution points visited by The New Oriental in Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Onitsha, Enugu, Awka , Abakaliki, Nnewi and Asaba confirmed that Hero now leads in the order of demands by consumers of lager beer.
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