Very little exists in terms of literature on the malt drinks market in Africa despite the beverage category constituting a significant portion of the non-alcoholic malt beverage segment on the continent. Allied Market Research predicts the global non-alcoholic malt drinks market to be worth US$6.43 billion in 2022 but does not provide specific data on the market size of malt beverages in Africa. Does this imply that the market size of malt beverages in Africa is insignificant? No, not at all. On the contrary, the continent has one of the most blooming malt drinks markets in the world if the number of new innovative products is anything to go by. In markets such as Egypt and Nigeria, demand is particularly high, and so is competition. For this reason, malt drink producers have been forced to build more than just one brand to remain competitive.

A Sister To Beer But Without The Alcohol

A number of reasons make malt drinks popular among African consumers, chief among them being changing consumption patterns in favor of non-alcoholic drinks. Consumers seeking non-alcoholic beverages find malt drinks particularly exciting as they are produced with the same ingredients used in beer but without the alcohol associated with it.

To add to that, malt drinks are marketed as healthy drinks. Nigerian Breweries, which produces various non-alcoholic malt drink brands, has a whole article where it highlights the benefits of consuming malt drinks. According to the post, malt drinks contain soluble fibers that help improve food digestion and is also a rich source of energy-giving protein. It further notes that malt extracts contain fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6, which help to lower cholesterol in the body and are, therefore, good for the heart. Nigerian Breweries finally opines that the high-water content in the drink makes it great for hydration. This statement is repeated by almost all other major non-alcoholic malt drink brands in Africa, and the message resonates well with consumers who are increasingly seeking foods that improve their overall well-being.

NIGERIA STANDS TALL IN MALT DRINK CONSUMPTION

Nigeria stands head and shoulders above others when it comes to malt drink consumption. According to a Canadean report, Nigeria is the largest malt market in Africa, responsible for 74% of all malt sales on the continent. Here, malt drinks are immensely popular and are considered the perfect accompaniment to the national dish: jollof rice and fried meat. With such immense popularity, it’s not surprising that Nigeria has the highest number of malt drink brands of any country on the continent. There are more than 10 malt drink brands jostling for the attention of the more than 200 million people living in the country.

Over half of these brands are, however, produced by local subsidiaries of three multinationals: Heineken, Diageo, and AB InBev. Heineken majority-owned Nigerian Breweries produces Maltina (the country’s oldest malt drink scene in 2022. drink brand), Amstel Malta, and Hi Malt while Diageo-owned Guinness Nigeria produces Malta Guinness and Dubic Malt. Meanwhile, International Breweries, which is owned by AB InBev, produces Grand Malt and Beta Malt.

Malt drinks’ popularity, however, extends beyond Nigeria and is very much present in much of West and Central Africa. Although Malta Guinness has found great acceptance in Nigeria, the drink was first conceived in Cameroon in 1984, and today it’s the most widely distributed malt drink in Africa. According to Guinness Nigeria, Malta Guinness is a hugely successful and profitable brand available in 11 countries – Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Gabon, and Togo.

In Egypt, demand is also notably high. Like in many Islamic countries, alcohol consumption is frowned upon, making non-alcoholic alternatives attractive to consumers.The country’s largest brewer, Al Ahram Beverages, quenches the thirst of many Egyptians with its two popular brands, Birell and Fayrouz. Ethiopia also has a significant malt drink market which had for a long time been dominated by Diageo’s Malta Guinness Brand. Competition has, however, intensified with the launch of Sen’Q by BGI Ethiopia in 2021 and the entry of Heineken Ethiopia-owned Bertat into the malt drimk scene in 2022.

East Africa has also had its fair share of malt drinks. For a long time, Malta Guinness, produced locally by East African Breweries, was popular in Kenya before its eventual withdrawal in 2007. A year later, East African Breweries launched a new non-alcoholic malt drink under the Alvaro brand. Coca-Cola, the market leader in the soft drink beverage market, responded with the launch of its own non-alcoholic drink under the Schweppes Novida brand. The two brands were later introduced in Uganda, with Coca-Cola taking a step further and launching its Novida brand in Tanzania just to stay ahead of its newfound competitor in the soft beverage market. The two existed as the only malt drink brands for a while before the entry of new players. In Kenya, Brava Food Industries has a range of malt drinks under the Malto brand that competes with the two multinationals while in Uganda, Harris International has a malt drink under the Riham Brand. In Tanzania, competition is particularly intense, with both Bakhresa Group and Mohammed Enterprises Limited having malt drinks in their portfolio under the Azam and Mo brands, respectively.

The popularity of non-alcoholic malt drinks is yet to pick up in Southern Africa, with Breva Fruit Malt disappearing from the market a few years after it was launched. The only time South Africans get to drink nonalcoholic malt drinks is when they try out Castle Free, a zero-alcohol beer was launched by South African Breweries in 2017. According to a report by Engineer News, Castle Free gained popularity during the Covid-19 period when alcohol sales were banned and has continued to record higher sales long after the ban was lifted.

Product Ranges Extend Beyond Dark Malt

Africa is dominated by dark malt, which is brewed using roasted barley, giving the drink a much darker color.

Michael Ramsell, a beverage analyst at Canadean, says: “Dark malt drinks dominate the region and are marketed at children and working-class consumers who prefer sweettasting beverages.” Almost all the most popular drinks in the region, including Malta Guinness, fall under this category of malt drinks. Ramsell, however, notes that clear malts have become more popular after being introduced as an adult beverage in an attempt to attract a more affluent and wider audience. This is especially true in the East African region where the leading brands Alvaro and Schweppes Novida are all clear malt drinks.

Consumer desire for new flavor experiences has also seen the introduction of new malt flavors. Schweppes Novida is, for instance, available in three flavors – Pineapple, Apple, and Tropical while its competitor Alvaro is available in two, Pineapple, and Pear. Meanwhile, Egypt’s popular malt drink Fayrouz was originally available in Apple flavor, but more flavors including Pineapple, Mango, Peach, and a mix of Apple Watermelon have been added to appeal to a wide range of consumers. The product is today available in multiple markets, including Morocco, Qatar, Nigeria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Another notable development in the malt drink category in Africa is the launch of malt energy drinks to tap into the rising demand for energy and malt drinks. Dutch multinational brewer Heineken is championing this trend across the continent through its local subsidiaries. In Ethiopia, the company launched Bertat Energy drink to appeal to young adult men. The new drink which came to market in 2022 fuses the nutritional benefits of malt drinks, including vitamins B6 and B12, with the energy bursts associated with energy drinks. Earlier, Heineken subsidiary Brassivoire had released to market its Rhino Energy brand in Cote d’Ivoire. Rhino Energy Malt is a lighter, more refreshing malt-based drink that is explicitly marketed as an energy drink and contains taurine, ginseng, caffeine, and vitamins B3, B5, B6, and B12. Similarly, in DRC, Heineken’s Bralima markets the Energy Malt brand, featuring a rhino in the logo, with the same formulation.

Heineken majority-owned Nigerian Breweries crowned it all by launching Zagg Malt Infused drink in November 2022. “Zagg was brewed to help the average Nigerian keep up with the demands of everyday life,” says Elohor Olumide-Awe, the brand’s representative and Portfolio Manager, Non-Alcoholic brands, Nigerian Breweries PLC. During the launch, Olumide-Awe noted that it was quite rare to come across a malt-infused energy drink. “We chose to make Zagg a fusion of ingredients that are normally brewed separately to show our consumers that they do not have to be one thing. They can be jacks of different trades and be masters of them all,” she added.

Although marketed as healthy, health-conscious consumers have always had an issue with the sugar level in many malt drinks. In response to consumer concerns, malt drink producers have launched low-sugar malt drinks. Amstel Malt and Malta Guinness low sugar are some of the products that fall under this category. Taste is, however, key to the acceptance of these products. In an interview with In a local publication, Bona Odinaka, a shop owner in Nigeria said: “The sales of the new Malta Guinness low-sugar are very slow due to its taste, compared to Amstel Malta with low-sugar but good taste.”

Last but not least is the introduction of malt coffee drinks, which are a blend of malt flavors and coffee. The trend is gaining popularity in East Africa, especially among homegrown brands. In Kenya, Brava Food Industries has Bravo Malto Coffee, which falls under this category. Across Tanzania, Bakhresa Group has Azam Malti Coffee, while in Uganda, Hariss International has Riham Coffee Malt.

Despite their perceived superior nutritional qualities, most malt drinks in Africa are targeted at adult drinkers, effectively locking out children who are a key component of the population. Seeking to take advantage of this gap, Chi Limited, a Nigeria-based subsidiary of the Coca-Cola company, launched Chivita Smart Malt Drink in 2022, with children as the primary target. The beverage is rich in Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, and E to boost the overall well-being of children. According to a statement from the company, Chivita Smart Malt Drink is specially designed for all the smart mums out there who want to give their kids the right energy to learn and play.

New Malt Packaging Emerge

For a long time, the continent has been accustomed to glass bottles as the primary packaging for malt beverages. Competition from new brands has, however, seen players in the field become innovative with their packaging to boost brand image, cut costs, and enhance convenience for consumers. Aluminum has been particularly sought after by brands seeking to refresh their brands and make them appealing for modern consumers. In Nigeria, where competition is particularly stiff, all major brands from Malta Guinness to Maltina and Amstel Malt all have aluminum can versions. Taking a step further, Nigerian Breweries introduced the tetrapak ‘Maltina sip it’ that made the drink more handy and accessible. The company also changed the bottle design from the conventional – short and rotund – to a more modern and unique design.

The convenience, affordability, and reliability afforded by PET bottles has also not gone unnoticed by Malt Drink manufacturers. Almost all major malt drink brands, including Malta Guinness, Maltina, and Fayrouz, are available in PET bottles. PET is especially favored by homegrown brands which aim to make their product as affordable as possible and lack the financial capability of deploying other more expansive packaging formats such as glass and aluminum cans. This explains why all of these brands from Riham to Azam and Mo Malt are available exclusively in PET bottles.

The Future Looks Bright

The demand for non-alcoholic malt beverages is expected to remain strong in the near future as more consumers recognize the benefits of these drinks. According to Future Market Insights, the global non-alcoholic malt beverage segment could grow at a CAGR of 3.2% and reach US$48.9 billion by 2032. FMI predicts that beverage manufacturers’ product innovation will help drive growth in this category over the next decade.

Africa, the focus of this article, is expected to perform exceptionally well as more people enter the middle class and have disposable incomes to purchase malt drinks, which are mostly considered a luxury. Africa already has the world’s fastest-growing middle class, with 313 million people, or 34% of Africa’s population, belonging to this group. This number is expected to grow to 1.1 billion by 2060. This large, untapped population, combined with the positioning of malt drinks as healthier alternatives to alcohol and conventional carbonated soft drinks, presents the perfect opportunity for existing and new investors in the category.

However, Euromonitor International notes that new entrants will face challenges from well-established market players. Nonetheless, there is potential for companies to take advantage of the current expansion in the sub-Saharan African retailing sector. Companies can target retailers which can act as a launch platform for new products. Ramsell, a beverage analyst at Canadean, advises regional malta brands to keep innovating to keep their customers interested. Ramsell suggests that in the short term, malta brands can stay innovative by offering clear malt in a range of flavors such as peach, pomegranate, and raspberry.

This article first appeared in Issue 57 of Food Business Africa Magazine. Click Here to read the entire magazine.