We spoke to the Habesha Breweries team about the food and beverage industry across Ethiopia after a challenging period stemming from the impact of the pandemic
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Donovan Smith
It is no secret that the food and beverage industry across the globe has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those businesses that have not shut down have had to hibernate or adapt their services to weather the storm of the past year, and are only just beginning their recovery with the worldwide rollout of various COVID-19 vaccines.
For Ethiopia, the country has been almost completely closed for international business in multiple sectors, yet surprisingly the food and beverage industry has been one of the few that has remained open.
“One of the keys to success in this industry has been to deliver an international quality standard with a local approach,” begins Afel Amberber, Marketing Manager for Habesha Breweries S.C.
“The beer industry still has a lot of untapped opportunity as it only has less than 20 beer brands. With a growing economy, current companies challenging each other to deliver better and pushing the limits, and also potential new entrants into the market, the industry still has a huge potential.”
Founded by 8,000 proud Ethiopian shareholders who were moved by the vision of reaching and connecting with Ethiopians, Habesha Breweries stands as one of the companies at the forefront of the Ethiopian beverage sphere. Starting its product distribution on July 2015, the company has grown rapidly by delivering high quality beers and non-alcoholic malt beverages across Ethiopia and 15 other countries in the world (America, Europe, Asia, Africa). The brewery is located in Debre Birhan City whereas the head office is located in the capital city Addis Ababa and has more than 400 employees.
“As one of the fastest growing beer companies in Ethiopia, Habesha has become a highly recognised beer brand in the industry,” Afel elaborates.
“In its five years of being in the market, the company has positioned itself as an authentic Ethiopian brand. The company has worked tirelessly for the spirit of unity and togetherness allowing the brand to build a strong emotional connection with Ethiopians by raising the quality bar of beverages in parallel.”
Afel’s career path had not begun in the food and beverage industry. Starting in advertising, she worked for different agencies that gave her a foundational knowledge and experience across various sectors.
“It also helped me understand organisational cultures and ways of working of different companies,” she tells us. “This was a big advantage for me that came in handy when I joined the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) world as I had a wide exposure and perspective from different sectors and companies already.”
“Most of our clients at the agencies I worked for were in the food and beverage sector as it was one of the most competitive industries in the country. There was, and is, stiff competition in the area, so companies invested behind their brands to win the market. The vibrancy of the industry made me interested to directly join the sector. Habesha is a brand that I was always fascinated with (even before I joined the company) as it has been transforming the beer industry since its launch.”
As a marketer, Afel was drawn into Habesha’s unique branding, emotive-based communication, and high-quality end-to-end execution - it was from this that she decided to apply for and join the company.
This unique branding allows Habesha Breweries to stand out in the Ethiopian food and beverage industry.
The company has made the effort to differentiate its offerings starting from conception, from which it has focused on differentiating its end-to-end consumer experience. The company challenged the thought behind the notion that products have to be imported to meet the quality standard by producing a consistently good product over the years. It also introduced thermochromic technology in the label of a Habesha beer. This allows the label to change colour when the beer is at an optimal temperature to guarantee a perfect serve – a revolutionary change in the beverage market in Ethiopia.
“Habesha joined the market with branding and communication that truly connects with its customer base, as it portrays Ethiopian assets and values though the brand personality,” Afel explains.
“The brand knows who its audience is: Ethiopians proud of their identity, culture and traditions that is maintained by a nation that was never colonised. The brand is dedicated to show this national pride to the rest of the world.”
This factor created an instant connection with the customer base and let it stand out as it continues to do so today.
“The black and gold brand colours are bold and appealing; black was a colour that was perceived to show darkness and sadness in the Ethiopian culture. The brand was bold enough to challenge this perception and change it,” Afel tells us proudly.
“The company also challenged the status quo around distribution model while entering the market. Before Habesha came to the market, all breweries started distribution after 9am in the morning. Habesha introduced the discipline for the sales trucks to be present at the outlets at 6am in the morning before the competition arrived. This was to make sure the available cash the outlets were willing to spend on the category was spent on Habesha’s brands.”
And Habesha’s innovative branding is incorporated into its many company projects. A prime example of this is Habesha’s Kidame beer; a beverage conceived with the vision of giving the market a beer product that is different from what already exists in the market.
“The beer market has been adding lager beer brands that tastes similar to already existing ones,” Afel says.
“As a result, the company saw an opportunity for a slightly different tasting lager beer that is easy to drink and smooth. In addition, it also saw that most brands in the market have a serious tone of voice and only few brands embody a humorous brand personality. Therefore, as Kidame means ‘Saturday’ in Amharic, the brand has a fun, friendly, relaxed, and witty personality.
“The product was launched in November 2020 and has already reached 158 cities as of March 2021.”
Further into the project development sphere, Habesha is also currently expanding its barley chain development programme with a target set to become locally self-sufficient in the supply of barley, (its primary ingredient), in the year 2023.
To achieve this, Habesha have embarked on the comprehensive development programme since 2018, involving all the members of the company supply chain, from seed input to harvesting. The programme has involved training local farmers on proper agronomical practices, pre-financing inputs and outputs, working together with the world bank group to introduce new barley varieties, all with the aim of increasing current farm yields from average of four tonnes to six tonnes annually. Omo Ohiwerei, Operations Director at Habesha Breweries, elaborates.
“This programme is also a factor towards our business sustainability objectives because it creates a real economy and a sense of livelihood for the farmers while at the same time ensuring business opportunity for Habesha breweries,” he assures us.
On top of this, the Habesha brewery plant in Debre Birhan has expanded its capacity with the introduction of a draught line as part of its packaging installations. The facility boasts all of the modern units that are prevalent within the industry.
“With the proper training of its operators and an installation programme that ran for six weeks, the company commissioned the plant in November 2020, and created the best draught beer that Ethiopia can offer,” Ohiwerei tells us proudly.
“The production line is also in a modular format and can be expanded as required, depending on sales demand and growth of the Habesha draught product line.”
As in many service-based sectors, partner and supplier relationships are incredibly important to the success of businesses in the food and beverage industry.
Habesha Breweries has a robust supply chain operation that includes the systems used, structures and processes in planning and executing the flow of goods and services from our suppliers and ultimately to our customers. To maximise effectiveness, we evaluate both internal operations and the extended supply chain that includes suppliers and customers.
“We have a strong and healthy relationships with our suppliers and gain better value for our business,” affirms Samson Shiberu, Procurement Manager at Habesha Breweries.
“Through the developed relationships we are able to attain a very good service, preferential pricing and special terms that have a direct impact in Habesha’s success.
“Habesha Breweries is also engaged in sustainability as its core corporate KPI that is also related to its supply chain operations. This includes environmental, economic and social developments. Among others sourcing of raw materials from local suppliers mainly barely. We develop the farmers by providing them financial and technical support and play a key role in our supply chain source.”
These positive partner and supplier relationships are key to Habesha’s continued success into the future, and in the years ahead the company is focused on making back what has been lost during the past year. This aim to rebuild business and revenue, as well as the company’s innovative branding, and customer and employee-centric attitude has pushed Habesha Breweries to the fore of the Ethiopian beverage sector. With a promising future ahead of it, Habesha is one to watch.