Cote d’Ivoire’s war of the beers turns bitter
ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire — “In our house, the beer is Bock!” boasts the familiar slogan for the lager that is Cote d’Ivoire’s market leader, brewed by Solibra.
“Beer Ivoire, loved by Ivorians!” says a competing advert for Ivoire lager, brewed by newcomers Brassivoire.
On posters and huge billboards around the West African country, the rival ads, often side by side, compete for attention.
Since Brassivoire’s arrival in the country’s emerging beer market in April 2016, the two breweries have been battling it out in what some observers are calling “the beer war”.
Concerns have been raised, however, about the effect the marketing war could have on impressionable youngsters.
“When we say ‘the beer war’, we’re talking about a real war, make no mistake about it,” said Jean-Baptiste Koffi, president of the federal consumers’ union (UFC), which represents 125 groups.
“They don’t pull any punches.”
Solibra is owned by the French group Castel, present in Cote d’Ivoire since 1955. The new kid on the block, Brassivoire, is owned by the Dutch giant Heineken and trading firm CFAO.
In just over a year since setting up shop in Cote d’Ivoire, Brassivoire has managed to grab a third of the market — and it is gearing up to take more.
In April, Brassivoire opened a 150 million euro ($177 million) plant just outside Abidjan, capable of producing about 160 million liters of beer per year.
The market in Cote d’Ivoire is a lucrative one. Nearly 30 million liters of beer is consumed annually in the country of more than 23 million people.
However, the UFC consumers’ union is not happy, announcing a campaign against ads and billboards placed near schools.
And the CAFCI body that monitors this kind of advertising in Cote d’Ivoire has denounced marketing tactics, which, it said, could influence impressionable youngsters.
Solibra Deputy Director Roger Adou acknowledged that the two rivals had got carried away in their marketing battle.
“It’s not healthy that we see beer bottles marketed to minors who are very vulnerable everywhere in Abidjan,” he said.
Bar and restaurant owners in Cote d’Ivoire have other concerns however.
Although the average bottle of beer costs consumers 500 CFA (89 cents), shop and bar owners pay a deposit to the brewery to stock their shelves.
Once the beers are sold and customers have brought back the bottles, the sellers return the bottles to the breweries to get their deposit back.
But revenues are not enough to offset the price of the bottle, they complain.
“Our profit margins are weak. The bottle costs more than the liquid,” Gnahoua said.
The breweries have promised to address the issue.
But analyst Dominique Gnangoin sees no end in sight in the battle for beer market supremacy.
“The sector has a bright future in Cote d’Ivoire, where the war will get increasingly furious,” he said.
A vendor sells her goods next to a billboard advertising Bock beer in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. Bock and brewer Brassivoire are locked in a marketing battle.