Bonanza for city wine and spirit sellers

Six months ago, revellers across the country were served a rude shock with the closure of bars and a ban on the sale of alcohol at restaurants as one of the measures to curb Covid-19.

This meant to get their daily, weekly, or monthly tipple, consumers had to change their buying habits, opting for home deliveries or a visit to the local wines and spirits outlets.

Overnight, wines and spirits (alcohol) outlets were cropping up at every corner, most next to or across where pubs are located.

In Nairobi’s Central Business District’s downtown area, there are rows of outlets near bus stops, some new, that have seen increased patronage as people pick up their drink on the way home.

Alcohol manufacturers and distributors saw a sharp decline in sales particularly on beer. However, the spirits segment has shown resilience as more people shift their consumption habits.

“Mainstream and value spirits remained resilient and registered 2 percent growth versus prior year as the category benefited from a shift of outlet consumption occasions to at-home consumption,” said East African Breweries (EABL) #ticker:EABL in its annual report for 2020.

EABL, however registered a 37 percent decline in net sales as the partial lockdown from March to June led to closure of bars and restaurants.

“The second half decline was due to impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw containment measures implemented across East Africa from late March 2020,” said EABL in the report.

A liquor store in Nairobi

A liquor store in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Dial A Champagne, an online store dealing in premium booze, has witnessed an increase in the sales, especially in the higher end.

“People are drinking more, but at home. They are also buying higher end bottles to show off to their friends,” said a representative of the store.

The shift has also changed how the store deals with its customers. The management now keeps constant communication on new stock, offers for the day, personalised messages to individual clients based on their consumption patterns and demands.

Alexandre Helaine, marketing manager East Africa for Moet Hennessy Africa and Middle East states that total volume went down but consumers are drinking up.

“Instead of drinking Hennessy VS in the club, our consumers are drinking Hennessy VSOP at home. This means more in bottle value but less in volume,” he said.

Hennessy VSOP costs about double what the VS costs.

The shift is also attributable to the cost of the bottle in a club or pub being significantly higher due to the mark-ups put in by bar owners. This means that the consumer can afford to drink a more expensive bottle as it is cheaper at a retail outlet than at a bar.

“Drinking from home is pushing better quality because they are not drinking as high volumes. Prices online are cheaper pushing consumers to buy better since its is cheaper than at the club,” added Helaine.

There has also been diversification in the drinks that people are consuming beyond their every day choices, he pointed out.

“More people went into single malt. We are selling more Glenmorangie than before in terms of quality, volume and varieties,” he said of the consumer behaviour change.

Wines and Spirits shops on Mfangano lane in

Wines and Spirits shops on Mfangano lane in Nairobi on September 7, 2020. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

One such consumer is Andy Onyango who has been picking up his daily dram from the local wines and spirit dealers. Before, he would visit the local pub after work and on the weekend, he would be a reveller at a popular night club in the city.

“I buy drinks by the bottle and go home with them. With pay cuts, I am also drinking more affordable alternatives to my favourite gin,” he said.

He has also been using local e-commerce platforms to cash in on offers from the sites.

Locally and globally, alcohol brands have had to re-evaluate how they get to consumers as on trade channels (this include bars and restaurants) remain closed, slowing down sales.

Locally firms have increased partnerships with e-commerce platforms and supermarkets including Naivas, Quickmart, Carrefour and Chandarana to reach the consumer.

Increased home deliveries

In a previous interview, Mulunda Kombo, Glenfiddich National Brand Ambassador for Kenya stated that uptake of home delivery has been cushioning the brand. This is because of people drinking stronger and from much earlier in the day.

At the beginning of the closure of pubs and ban on sale of alcohol at restaurants, retailers and delivery firms stated that Kenyans were buying five times more alcohol from the channels than before Covid-19.

The increase was also coupled with bulk buying as consumers sought to store some of the alcohol in their homes.

EABL started packaging its bottled beer brands in carton packs of six to allow customers buy as take-away and return bottles once they finish consuming.

This move was aimed at replicating the trend with mainstream spirits which are easy to purchase and carry for consumers.

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