SABMIller's cassava beer aims to win over home brewers

- Finance - Feb 13, 2012

World-famous brewer SABMiller may be better known for its mass produced globally popular lagers such as Grolsch, Miller Light, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell. But aside from trying to beat off competition in the industry, in Africa it has also had to compete against the home brewer.

So much so that it became the first company in the world to brew cassava beer late last year in a bid to tempt people away from illicit homemade alcohol. Sold at around 75 percent of the price of other lagers, SABMiller hopes that it will prove to be a popular and safer alternative to beer made in the home.

Cassava is a root vegetable used by generations of people across Africa in traditional home brewing. The starchy staple crop thrives on high temperatures, making it ideal produce for African soil.

The lager, named ‘Impala’ after the African antelope, uses 70 percent cassava and 30 percent barley and is brewed and sold in Mozambique.

This isn’t the first time SABMiller has made a conscious effort to use locally sourced materials. Back in 2002, it began to make Eagle Lager from sorghum sourced from smallholder farmers in Uganda. Eagle certainly went down well - it now accounts for almost half of the company's sales in Uganda and generates income for about 9,000 farmers.

However SABMiller has had to work hard to combat problems with cassava. Its make-up consists of 75 percent water, meaning it cannot be transported long distances as it starts to degrade very quickly after harvest.

A mobile processing unit is used to provide a storage solution as cassava is chopped into slurry and turned into a cake that can be stored for at least six months.

“We have partnered with DADTCO (Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company) which has pioneered an Autonomous Mobile Processing Unit (AMPU).The AMPU travels to remote agricultural regions where some of the poorest smallholder farmers live; and processes the freshly-harvested cassava in situ, preserving the integrity of the all-important starch, and eliminating the need for farmers to sell their produce through third parties,” said the firm.

SABMiller Chief Executive Graham Mackay, said: "Very often illicit alcohol is positively dangerous. What we're doing is offering a legal alternative to that large percentage of alcohol that is homemade and from which governments get no taxes."

Around 40,000 tonnes of raw cassava will be used each year in the beer's production. The company hopes that the Impala brand will contribute up to 10 percent of the brewer’s annual sales in Mozambique over the next two to three years.

Its next step is to create a similar beer in South Sudan, where it had a brewery commissioned in 2009. It invested US$37million to build the facility in Juba and in 2010 SABMiller won nearly $1million funding from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) to introduce an innovative local sourcing model for cassava, which will provide the ingredients for the new beer.

“We are partnering with FARM-Africa to implement the initiative, which will bring direct and significant long-term market opportunities for around 2,000 smallholder farmers with dependants and other employment effects ensuring approximately 15,600 people could benefit in three years,” said SABMiller.


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