Battle of Brands: War of the Malt Drinks

After many years as market leader, Amstel Malta from the stables of Nigerian Breweries was put on the back foot recently when Guinness launched a malt drinks war for market share with the low sugar variant of its popular Malta Guinness. As Raheem Akingbolu found out in this report, the attempt to make Malta Guinness the market leader requires a new strategy

The last couple of weeks have witnessed a series of marketing gimmicks from the stables of the marketing directors of two leading Nigerian brewers – Guinness Plc and Nigerian Breweries Plc. More precisely, what is currently going on as a result of the move by Guinness to displace Amstel as the market leader can be likened to the cola wars between Coca Cola and Pepsi in the US and other parts of the world.

Once feelers from the industry got out that Guinness was planning to launch a low sugar variant of its malt brand, a non-alcoholic drink very popular in this country and most of West Africa, Nigerian Breweries and its creative agency, Insight Communications launched a strong counter-attack through a blitz of adverts. Long and short, Nigerian Breweries was forced to reassure Nigerians of their commitment to consumers who are becoming health conscious and may be concerned about the sugar content in their drink.

Guinness’ Low Sugar Malt

According to Guinness, the Malta Guinness low sugar malt drink has retained its taste and has not compromised on quality. Managing Director, Malta Guinness Nigeria, Delvin Hainsworth, said at the launch that the new offering was the drink of choice for those who cared about their health and well being. He said it was being introduced to the market to consumers particular about a healthy lifestyle, assuring that it was still filled with the refreshment and top of the world goodness, energy and vitality that Malta Guinness provides.

“We know that the launch of Malta Guinness Low Sugar is not a replacement for the malt drink, but an alternative offering for those people who want a lower sugar beverage that still tastes great,” he said. He further explained that “there are increasing numbers of people in Nigeria who are becoming health conscious when it comes to their lifestyle, and the Malta Guinness Low Sugar drink will meet the demands of a lower sugar alternative in the market, while still giving the same goodness of their favourite malt.”

It was also made known at the event that the Arsenal Football Club had chosen Malta Guinness to be the official malt drink of the club for the next three years in Nigeria. In this regard, new Malta Guinness Low Sugar will be the official malt drink of the Arsenal FC tour in Nigeria in August this year.

The agreement, according to him, had been reached following confirmation that the Arsenal first team will be visiting Nigeria in August for the first time in their history as part of their pre-season build up. Arsène Wenger’s side will play at the 60,000 capacity Abuja National Stadium on Sunday, August 5, most likely against a leading African national team.


Will it Knock Amstel off its Perch?

Though the Guinness boss disagreed that its decision to market a low sugar product was in response to the competition, a source in the company confirmed to THISDAY that the management of Guinness has been losing sleep over the increasing influence of Amstel and in its continued dominance in the market.


Yet, despite the popularity of Malta Guinness, observers do not see the new product as something that would knock Amstel off its perch, given the conservative approach of the leading drinks manufacturer to marketing, in contrast to Nigerian Breweries that has consistently deployed an aggressive marketing strategy to win the buy-in and brand loyalty of Nigerian consumers.

Another drawback for the new addition lies in its packaging, which makes it look exactly like the existing Malta Guinness. The fear in the market is that the lack of distinctive identity will make it difficult for illiterate consumers to identify. Except for the inscription “Low Sugar” tucked underneath the brand name, the bottle and other elements look exactly like the regular Malta Guinness. This is where Coca Cola made a difference by making the packaging for its low sugar Coke distinctly different from regular Coke.

Also commenting on the new product, an analyst and Publisher of Marketing Edge, Mr. John Ajayi faulted the timing of the launch, arguing that the fact that Amstel had filled the little space in the minds of malt drinkers who do not want to consume malt drinks with too much sugar, would make the war difficult for Guinness to win.

“Why did it take Guinness this long before it realised that there was this opportunity in the low sugar market. Was it as a result of consumer needs or failure to understand the market? To me, I’m yet to be convinced of the magic they will deploy to win the war. One thing is clear, for a brand to be a good leader, you must first win the hearts and minds of consumers, and Amstel has achieved this. Again, we must think of the resources required to fight the war, which I don’t think Guinness will be able to muster.” Ajayi said.

As it stands, it is no more business as usual for the handlers of both brands. For Guinness that seems to be aping Nigerian Breweries with its ‘Me Too’ approach, a lot more will still be required to chip away at Amstel’s market share. And for Nigerian Breweries, this is certainly not a time for the company to relax on its oars, as overconfidence could cost it dearly.

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