Bottoms up! KBL toasts to turning 100... and more

KBL Managing Director John Musunga and EABL Group CEO Jane Karuku during the launch of EABL's centenary celebrations at the Carnivore Grounds, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A century ago, the first factory-produced beer in Kenya and bottled by hand was rolled out into the market.

The factory was the brainchild of the Hurst brothers - George and Charles. George was killed by a charging elephant while on a hunting expedition in 1923. In his memory, Charles named the lager he had brewed Tusker. Tusker has since become Kenya’s “national beer.”

This year, Kenya Breweries Ltd (KBL) and Tusker are celebrating 100 years of existence.

East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) is the parent company of KBL and has since grown to become one of the top five counters on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), representing about 1.3 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and contributing over Sh50 billion in taxes.

KBL has a network of 45,000 farmers and supplies over 50,000 retailers across the country with its products and directly and indirectly impacts over 500,000 Kenyans across the value chain.

KBL Managing Director John Musunga talked to Financial Standard on what the centenary celebrations mean for the firm.

What do 100 years of existence mean for KBL?

We are extremely excited to be turning 100. KBL and Tusker are one of the few companies and brands that have stood the test of time, consistently striving for excellence through our value propositions. KBL has been interwoven in the tapestry of the Kenyan fabric for the last 100 years.

For instance, it is unthinkable for many today to speak about sports and culture without Tusker in mind. Whether it is Tusker FC, Tusker Safari Sevens, Tusker Project Fame and many more before, this brand has brought so much fun over time, while building real talent in the process.

The covid-19 pandemic hit businesses badly. How has KBL performed in the last two years?

The last two years have been challenging for EABL and debilitating for the entire beverage industry owing to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Our operations were largely impacted by the resultant restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, while supply chain disruptions – although not as significant compared to other industries – led us into some headwinds.

Despite the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, we delivered a steady performance, thanks to our agility, responsiveness to emerging opportunities and ability to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment.

At the height of the pandemic, we pivoted to off-trade channels (supermarkets, wines and spirits, and e-commerce channels, such as Jumia) as an alternative to enable us to continue to cater to our consumers. We also launched Party Central, an e-commerce platform that allows consumers to connect to scores of KBL distributors across Kenya. The brewer’s Kenya revenue grew 27 per cent in the half-year ended December 2021 compared to the previous half that ended June 2021. 

What stood out for KBL in 2021?

Despite operating in a challenging environment, we are proud to have carried out a few initiatives aimed at not only maintaining our market share in the region but also responding to the needs of the hard-hit hospitality industry.

First, we unveiled some innovations in the market, such as Tanqueray Sevilla, as we look to tap into the gin explosion. Our research has shown that there is immense growth potential in the premium gin segment in Kenya, especially among younger consumers. We believe that this premium gin will resonate with this niche of consumers who are always looking for new experiences and occasions to enjoy great drinks with friends.

Also, we launched the second phase of the ‘Raising the Bar’ programme aimed at supporting the hospitality industry, which was the hardest hit during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme, which was launched in December 2020, has reached out to over 2,273 outlets and 3,800 people across East Africa. 

Talk to us about sustainability. Why is it important for EABL as a whole?

Our sustainability efforts are focused on promoting and encouraging the growth of business in ways that benefit investors, customers and employees while at the same time supporting the social, cultural, and environmental needs of the communities where we work. At the centre of all this, we have been measuring our impact and the benefit that our initiatives bring to our communities where we source raw materials, as well as make and sell products.

We have been involved in various projects throughout the year geared towards driving our sustainability agenda. For instance, through our flagship brand Tusker, we named and adopted the two legendary elephants at the Amboseli National Park under the Tembo Naming Festival by the Kenya Wildlife Services.

We also launched the inaugural Sustainability Report in October last year, just to give an overview of the sustainable business practices we’ve put in place to support communities and do business the right way. 

What have you lined up for the upcoming activities relating to the centenary celebrations?

Expect a lot. We are looking at all those who we have worked with over time and our current partners and communities to celebrate together.  For Tusker, the brand is one of Africa’s most valuable jewels and has been at the heart of occasions and celebrations in Kenya and beyond. It is a beer that has been part and parcel of the national fabric, always bringing Kenyans together and celebrating special moments together. Therefore, the KBL/Tusker centenary celebration will be an opportunity to look back on our notable achievements.

Are we going to see more support for the arts and sports owing to their connection to the tusker brand?

Tusker has and will always be at the heart of the Kenyan culture, music, sports and arts, which is something we’ll look to continue leveraging in the next century as a way of connecting with our consumers. We have also launched Nexters – a talent search platform for the next generation of music and e-sports stars. We believe it will give Kenya’s future stars a platform to stand tall and showcase their talent. 

What do the next 100 years look like?

Sustainability will be a bedrock of the company moving forward, coupled with increased emphasis on innovation and increased level of efficiency in our working streams. We continue to stay true to our purpose of celebrating life everyday everywhere and we look forward to the next 100 years with optimism and pride.

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