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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 13:11 GMT
Uganda's 'home brew' hit

By James Whittington
BBC World Business Report, Africa editor

Eagle Lager label
Eagle, partly based on a traditional recipe, has taken Uganda by storm
Just about every month, there are horror stories in the African press about locally-produced alcohol which has poisoned some unfortunate drinkers.

There's a public outcry about the health risks of home-brew, and governments are called to ban the offending substances.

The problem is that home-brewed alcohol is so widespread that it would be virtually impossible to stamp it out.

A new global study has shown that it outsells commercially produced alcohol by as much as four times in some countries. And surprisingly, its quality is generally much better than expected.

Unpalatable

Marcus Grant from the International Centre for Alcohol Policies in Washington took part in the research.

"There certainly are examples of very dangerous home brews out there. For instance, in Swaziland I sampled a brew that had fertilizer and human faeces added to it," he told the BBC's World Business Report.

The product (Eagle Lager) has been on the market for 13 months now, and it was immediately a massive success
Ian Mackintosh, Nile Breweries
"But we found that these (brews) exist as the exception - either you have a bad batch, or you have unscrupulous producers.

"I wouldn't want to in any way diminish the public health importance of that, but there is a perception that that's what it's all like, and it clearly isn't."

One company which has seen the commercial benefits of tapping into the market for home brews is SABMiller.

Its operation in Uganda has produced a cross between sorghum beer, made from a locally-produced cereal, and conventional lager.

It's being marketed as Eagle Lager.

Sales soar

Ian Mackintosh, technical director at Uganda's Nile Breweries, explains how his product differs from the traditional brew.

"The traditional African sorghum beer is generally opaque. It's a fairly thick, chewy product, like a thin porridge," he says.

"Our sorghum beer which we have developed - Eagle Lager - looks exactly like any standard lager from Europe or America.

"It's golden in colour, completely crystal clear - profoundly different from the traditional sorghum brew."

Economic difficulties in Uganda have caused a sharp drop in disposable income, and the idea behind Eagle Lager was the need to produce a low-cost beer.

Eagle Lager currently sells at a 30% discount to mainstream lagers, largely because it is eligible for a reduced rate of excise tax.

This cost advantage compared with other lagers has translated into bumper sales.

"The product's been on the market for 13 months now, and it was immediately a massive success. Within a couple of months, in fact, it had become the largest brand in Uganda," Mr Mackintosh says.

Eagle Lager is still one of the top brands in Uganda, and has succeeded as a bridge between conventional and traditional beer.

A number of SAB subsidiaries in Africa and the Americas are now looking at how to replicate the idea in their local markets.


SEE ALSO:
Brewing giant gets taste for Italy
14 May 03  |  Business
Kenyans queue for beer money
05 May 03  |  Africa
Brewing giant abandons share plans
11 Jul 02  |  Business
Deadly brew hits Madagascar
29 Mar 02  |  Africa


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