Whisky in Africa

20 August, 2014

The premium ladder in most African markets starts at the lower rungs and differs from country to country but broadly speaking it runs from value to mainstream to premium to super-premium. At the value segment, it is mainly local brands but Pernod Ricard might change all that. The group will test its Indian whisky brands in Africa soon, with Nigeria and Kenya the most likely destinations. “We plan on producing Imperial Blue locally in Africa. This will allow us to test the waters and we will take a decision on Royal Stag at a later date,” Sumeet Lamba, executive director at Pernod Ricard India told The Times of India in June. 

Mainstream normally falls under $10, which is where Diageo’s Black & White and Pernod’s Passport operate. Johnnie Walker Red and Black, Bells and J&B are Diageo’s premium brands ($12-$24) while Pernod’s Ballantines comes in at around $15. The super-premium Jonnie Walker Blue and Chivas Regal are more aimed at urban consumers of higher wealth.

Pernod Ricard’s six key markets are Ghana, Angola, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and Morocco, where it has in-market presence under the auspices of its Sub-Saharan Africa division. CEO of Chivas Brothers Laurent Lacassagne sees Africa as a “mosaic” that requires tailored strategies and a long-term approach, in the same way Asia did some years ago. “The political environment is more fragile in many African markets but the development will take less time than in Asia 20 years ago because, in this digital time, the rhythm of development is quicker,” he says.  

Premiumisation is key globally and Africa is no different. “It’s a pyramid – the market is developing and we observe the trend towards premiumisation but it could be that it happens at a different speed,” says Lacassagne. 

“Passport attracts consumers and achieves critical mass, whereas Ballantine’s Finest is premium and our strategic brand for developing markets. We see that the development of our markets is closely linked to increases in GDP but we also look for an appreciation for consumer goods and an ability to access brands [financially].” 

Entering markets where Diageo or Pernod are dug-in may mean much of the educational donkey work is done, but the fight will be that bit harder. “Diageo is very strong in Africa – it invests a lot in its Johnnie Walker brand, “ says Aurélie Prat, brand manager at La Martiniquais’ Label 5. 

The brand has a “similar” taste profile to Johnnie Walker Red but operates a little lower down the premium scale to compete with Passport, White Horse and Grants.  But price points are only part of the strategy for Label 5. We can’t just work on price position – we have strong market plans and have invested a lot in media [advertising],” says Prat. 

But let’s narrow the field. Three of the top four whisky markets in Africa are South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – which neatly act as compass points of Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa represented 5.2m cases of whisky in 2013, according to Euromonitor International, and is expected to grow 30% between 2013 and 2018. 

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