Philip Wahome: Coca Cola launches new drink to counter EABL's Alvaro soft drink brand

Beer wars took a backseat last week as an aggressive soft drink battle for Kenyan beverage consumers took centre-stage. Two transnationals are battling for a market that has seen over ten drinks launched this year alone.

Atlanta-based multinational, the Coca-Cola Company, launched a malt-based drink, Novida, into the Kenyan market targeting young adult drinkers. The country was the first stop for the brand within Coca-Cola's East & Central Africa Business Unit (ECABU).

Coincidentally, in the same week, Parliament gave a clean bill of health to Alvaro, a similar malt-based non-alcoholic soft drink manufactured by East African Breweries Limited. EABL is majority-owned by the London-headquartered, Diageo pic.

"In fairness, the public wanted an assurance," said newly appointed EABL Marketing Director, Debra Mallowah, during an earlier interview.

The brewer was reacting to claims that Alvaro contained alcohol.

Kenya hosts the headquarters of the 27 countries within ECABU at the newly opened Coca-Cola centre at Upper Hill, a sign of the significance of the Kenyan market within Africa.

Both multinationals are expected to face off in distributorship and marketing strategies to reach and retain consumers.

Already, EABL has announced that Alvaro will be available nationally within a month. It has previously been bottled in Nairobi and its environs.

"Alvaro will be going national in four weeks and distributors will be appointed over that period," said Angela Mwirigi,EABL's marketing manager in charge of adult non-alcoholic drinks. Prior to her new title, Ms Mwirigi was the Alvaro brand manager and her promotion now requires her to replicate success with the brewer's dark non-alcoholic malt, Malta Guinness.

In Africa dark malts are a favourite in West African countries while the East African market prefers fruit-flavoured light malts.

This explains the reason Alvaro comes in two flavours - Pineapple and Pear-while Novida has three flavours - Pineapple, Apple and Tropical. "Pineapple flavour is a favourite with Kenyans and the success of fruit juices has shown that it does well in the market," said Coca Cola's ECABU Marketing Director, Maserame Mouyeme.

To boost Alvaro's capacity, sources reveal that EABL might be re-opening the former Castle Breweries factory in Thika. Interestingly, EABL did not deny it but promised to communicate once the option is considered."Yes, we have considered that and we will advise once we have decided the best option available of all the various directions we could take," said Ms Mwirigi.

Even as EABL strengthens Alvaro's production capacity, Coca-Cola is also keen to push Novida onto the bar scene, where the brewer calls the shots. A good pointer is Coca-Cola's decision to sell Novida under the Schweppes brand.

Currently, there are three Schweppes range of brands selling in Kenya -Shweppes soda water, Schweppes Tonic, and Schweppes Ginger Ale. Novida is the latest entry into the Schweppes line extension, which is renowned as a mixer for spirits.

It will be interesting to see how the distribution of Alvaro will fare in the kiosks channel where Coca-cola is king and generates its highest revenues.

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