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Malt Drinks: Consumers complain of high sugar as NB, Guinness intensify supremacy battle

By Princewill Ekwujuru

AMIDST rising sales profile of brewing companies, consumers are complaining of high presence of sugar in the low sugar and regular malt drinks. The key competitors in that segment of non-alcoholic beverages may have adjusted their competition strategy as a result of the complaints as now consistently playing up health as one of their unique selling propositions to retain or increase their market share.

Price has not been a contentious issue, as there is not much difference in the prices of the products. The producers, are now developing new marketing approaches to reach consumers, embarking on several promotional campaigns based on health messages, repackaging to plastic bottles, Tetra-pak (paper pack) containers as well as market presence.

Guinness

These developments have increased competition in the market among the major brands such as Maltina, Amstel, produced by Nigeria Breweries Plc, NB, Malta Guinness, Malta Guinness low sugar, Dubic Malt and Guinness Malta herb, from the stable of Guinness and  Grand malt and Beta malt  produced by   Intafact Beverages Limited, formerly SabMiller, a subsidiary of Abinbev Beverages.

Leadership of the market

Other malt brands like Malta Gold, Hi-malt, Maltex, Vitamalt and Maltonic are also contenders for market share in the malt drink market, and this has helped to stiffen competition in the market. Vanguard Companies and Markets, (C&M)  findings revealed that of these, five brands, Maltina, Amstel, Malta Guinness (regular), Malta Herb and Malta Guinness low sugar have taken over the leadership of the market, dividing consumers along taste line, making producers lock horns in neck-to-neck battle to overturn the leadership table.

C&M findings: Malt drinks cover the larger proportion of non-alcoholic beverage market in Nigeria with multinational companies, Guinness and NB, seeking to dominate the space. Malt drinks are increasingly being seen as healthy alternative to  alcoholic drinks, and the market leaders are playing up this mind-set amongst consumers by developing and positioning their products along health benefits.

The findings also showed that consumption of malt drinks in Nigeria has increased occasioned by deployment of several marketing tactics by malt drink producers. Historically, malt drink was used as food for children and the sick, but has since become a mainstream beverage consumed by more people looking at their nutritional value, a message that is attractive for manufacturers to carry across in today’s lifestyle of increasing health awareness.

NB’s  Maltina  introduced fruit variants, which gave room for consumers to pick their favourite flavours. Taking it a step further, it was the first to introduce the Tetra-pak, ‘Maltina  sip it’ that made it more handy and accessible. Guinness joined in the fray when it introduced the  Guinness Malta Herb  low sugar drink.

However, to determine the leader in the sugar based malt drink category, C&M findings showed that, of the persons interviewed more people preferred  Malta Guinness to Maltina. In the low sugar malt category, Amstel Malta leads in preference.

Consumers’ reaction: Venessa Obioha, a consumer, says, she prefers Amstel  to any other low malt drink. Her reason, “when I was growing up, an old advert had promised to keep consumers trimmed if they take it continuously, since then I have remained loyal to the brand.”

Another consumer, Jane Ugwuanyi, who claimed to have been trained    in one of the leading brewing companies, was different in her views, said, “all that claim on low or less sugar by malt producers are all fallacies; there is actually heavy presence of sugar in malt drinks, but what has reduced the sugar content is the addition of hops, which contains high level bitter concentrates.”    According to Maxwell  Farinto, a consumer, “the introduction of new non-alcoholic malt beverages is yet another example of how the marketplace responds when the public changes its mind. Since their rediscovery (new malt drinks) a few years ago, non-alcoholic malt beverages have increased in growth.”

Contrary to Uguwanyi’s statement, Mrs. Elizabeth Ojuolape, a depot owner, along Lagos-Badagry expressway said: “Those that buy and drink Maltina do so because of its promise of vitamins and body nourishments.” However, Mr. Paul Nwokeoma, a mini depot owner, said: “Malta Guinness was introduced into the market in 1990. It came with great taste and, above all, no after-taste, even when some consumers complained. This feat was a big relief for consumers. Soon, a generally accepted rumour spread like a wild fire, stating that  Malta Guinness  acts as a blood booster or blood tonic.”

Market demand: Two distributors spoken to, James Njama and Eugene Okwu of Soflix Enterprises and Maximus Stores, have different views on the level of patronage they record on both brands. Njama said that he sells about 15 to 20 cartons of Malta Guinness daily, depending on market demand as against 11 to 15 cartons of Maltina.

Indicating the preference of Amstel to Malta Guinness low sugar malt, he said, “my records show that Amstel sells the most in the low sugar category of the market”, but he pointed out that other malt drinks which consumers see as low malt drinks but not positioned as one are also very competitive in the market.

Marketing experts view: A marketing expert, Jude Anuforo of Matrix Marketing, said: “It is not that they (Malt drinks) are real threat to the market for beers; these important variants (of Malt drinks) are finding a niche of their own by satisfying current lifestyle interests. Malt-based soft drink producers have certainly found inventive ways of breathing new life into old-time brands by updating the products and appealing to new consumer groups. Arguably, the most vibrant strand of growth may lie within the market for non- alcoholic malt beverages, Muslim populations in the West and some Christian groups that forbid the drinking of alcohol triggered the growth of the market.”

Elvis Udemba, also with Matrix Marketing, predicted that sale of non-alcoholic malt drinks alone will increase 54 percent in the next five years in Nigeria.  With smart marketing and possibly the addition of functional ingredients to their products manufacturers of malt-based non-alcoholic drinks can simultaneously appeal to all health-conscious consumers in the market place. In Nigeria, it has now turned out to be a drink preferred in most social gatherings, for health and or religious belief.”

Guinness comments: Responding to C&M inquiries, Adenike Adebola, Marketing and Innovation Director for Guinness Nigeria stated: “The Nigerian soft drinks market has continued to evolve. Our participation has grown over the last two years from one brand to three. With the evolving economic climate we have seen strong growth in the value segment within which we also have a very strong contender with  Dubic Malt.

Strong player in the entire malt category

“Guinness Nigeria remains a very strong player in the entire malt category and our brands continue to do very well overall. Our commitment to consumers who choose our brands every day is delivering to them quality products and brand experiences that we are known for. As we quickly adapt to the evolving realities of the Nigerian market, the most important thing remains our ability to listen to our consumers and evolve to their needs, we have exciting programmes planned for the year ahead.

“The regulatory bodies (NAFDAC & SON) announced new regulations, stipulating new guidelines for sugar content and labelling for Malt drinks. This stipulated that only malt drinks containing less than 2.5g of Sugar could be labelled Low Sugar, between 2.5g and below 9g was classified Light Sugar. This change in regulation nullified all ‘Low Sugar’ claims in the market. Following this, Guinness Nigeria made the bold choice to temporarily discontinue our low sugar variant and launch what is the very first light sugar malt drink in Nigeria.”


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.