AB InBev’s venture arm ZX Ventures backs SA alcohol free drinks company The Duchess

SOUTH AFRICA – AB InBev’s corporate venture capital and innovation arm ZX Ventures has partnered with Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) to clinch an equity stake in South Africa based premium alcohol-free drinks producer, The Duchess.

The Duchess launched in 2016, became popular for its alcohol-free gin and tonic and has since achieved multinational success by selling over 8 million bottles.

In 2020, it expanded its range to launch alcohol-free wine spritzers to target the underserved alcohol-free wine market.

The brand is now available in seven countries including South Africa, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and the UK. Over 50% of its sales already come from export markets, reports Bizcommunity.

ZX Ventures first backed the drinks producer in 2019. With its connection to a global beverage giant, ZX Ventures has strong networks and deep industry knowledge to compliment the Duchess team, and partnered with RMB because of its financing know-how and access to African networks.

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“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with RMB and are confident that joining forces will enable us in our mission to empower entrepreneurs to unlock growth in South Africa with both capital and strategic expertise.

“We look forward to our continued work with The Duchess and RMB,” said Daniel Obaseki, investment partner, ZX Ventures EURAF Beverage Fund.

ZX Ventures’ investment in The Duchess builds on its low-alcohol and alcohol-free portfolio in South Africa which features new product launches such as Flying Fish Seltzer.

The ‘No and Low alcohol’ is a category that has huge potential, projected to grow by a 7.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) per year to a US$43 billion global market by 2025.

“The Duchess is proving to be an international favourite with health and wellness-minded people who simply weren’t satisfied with sparkling water or sugary soft drinks as alternatives to alcohol.

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“People have become more conscious about what they put in their bodies. The notion of ‘you are what you eat’ has evolved to ‘you are also what you drink’,” The Duchess founder Johannes le Roux said.

Catherine Townshend of RMB’s Growth Capital Solutions team, which specialises in funding and advising high-growth companies, said, “This investment represents a great opportunity to build on The Duchess success story with global momentum in the ‘better for you’ beverage innovation category.

“We are pleased to support an innovative and proudly South African team to take a special ‘homegrown’ product beyond our borders and share it with the rest of the world.”

SAB champions responsible alcohol drinking

Meanwhile, AB InBev’s operating unit in SA, South African Breweries (SAB), is taking charge to accelerate responsible alcohol consumption during the festive season through the launch of a new evidence-based platform.

The new platform is called SAB Sharp, a play on words communicating SAB’s leadership in championing responsible consumption of alcohol through a rallying call to South Africa to be sharp – to make better decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption.

This call is encapsulated in the SA Be Sharp Charter, a manifesto of SAB’s commitment to championing responsibility which includes a citizen’s commitment.                                                                                                      

SAB VP for Corporate Affairs, Zoleka Lisa said, “Beer has been a special part of South African heritage and culture for many years, and, as SAB, we firmly believe that every experience with beer should be a positive one. This belief requires us to encourage and enable the growth of thriving communities where harmful drinking no longer presents a social challenge.

“Our SAB Sharp commitments and programmes are designed to get South Africans to consume alcohol responsibly as they LIVE, DRIVE, TALK and SELL Sharp.”

The new SAB Sharp platform, will enable SAB to run interventions that can accelerate the curbing of irresponsible consumption of alcohol at scale and with pace, leveraging partnerships with government, communities, civil society retailers, tavern owners and media agencies.

This is part of the company’s five-year plan to create a safer and smarter drinking culture.

The SAB Sharp platform will drive tangible results in SAB’s delivery of programmes aimed in 4 specific pillars of responsibility: responsible communities, responsible driving, responsible marketing, and responsible trading.

To this end, SAB has already begun piloting all its responsible consumption programmes including the rollout of 10 Alcohol Evidence Centres across South Africa. By 2025, SAB will have rolled out 50 AECs across the country.

The brewer has also rolled out a Responsible Trading Programme to 30 000 retailers which will ensure that retailers are held accountable in terms of a compliance criteria that ensures that they trade responsibly by not selling to underage individuals, amongst others.

SAB further envisages the roll out of 10 Gender-Based Violence centres across the country by 2025.

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