The market for herbal drinks or bitters as they are often called is heating up in the Nigerian beverage market.
With sluggish sales in premium and mainstream beer brands for the two large brewery companies, Nigerian Breweries Plc and Guinness Nigeria Plc, one bright spot has been the emergence and growth of the herbal drinks segment.
Bitters started showing up in the market about 10 years ago. Initially, it was marketed as a sex enhancing drink for men and to some extent, still is. They came in little gin bottles and were often seen being peddled in traffic by roadside vendors.
For those who consume them, they swear by it. You will often hear young men in semi-skilled jobs say that their partners are happier with them in bed because of these drinks. Others engaged in the marketing and distribution of bitters lists some of the benefits as helping in the relief of pile (jedi-jedi), malaria, cleansing of toxins in the body, among others.
As of 2014, the bitters market was said to be worth about N32.2 billion naira and growing.
Some of the brands you would find in the market are Alomo bitters by Kasapreko, a leading company in this segment from Ghana. Others are Action bitters, Osomo, Kerewa, Baby Oku, Ashetu, Yoyo, Oroki, among others.
The stigma with bitters
While bitters have a large consumer following, it has not fully been embraced by the middle and upper class of society. Part of the reason was that no one could vouch for their claims. For instance, here is what was written on the label of one of these drinks:
Distilled with herbal extracts to promote energy, fertility, virility powerful erection. It cures menstrual pains and promotes blood purification.”
In addition, prior investigations done showed that some of the companies behind these products do not even have a fixed address. They cannot be traced.
While there are genuine companies involved in the manufacture and sale of these products and with the requisite certifications from the food regulatory agency, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), others may bear false accreditation.
Also, these drinks are often referred to as being too pedestrian. Something you bought in traffic. You never really know what is in the bottle.
The first herbal product that got the attention of consumers was Alomo Bitters; a product of the Kasapreko Company of Ghana, a leading herbal drink company in the Nigerian market.
They weren’t the first herbal drinks company but were the first to break through to the mass market in Nigeria.
They came into the Nigerian market about four years ago and had been the leading herbal drink company in the market. Studies show that in 2011 – 2012, Alomo bitters controlled about 80 percent of the herbal drink market. By some estimates, they grossed over N15 billion per year.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before knock-offs began to flood the market. This caused the company heavy losses, running into billions of naira. It also caused them to lose market share.
The company has been working very hard to educate consumers on how to identify their genuine product from the knock-offs. Recently, Kasapreko launched two new additions to their stable, Kalahari bitters and Carnival strawberry.
While the market for herbal drinks had seemed chaotic at first, those in the trade were making lots of money.
It wasn’t long before the two dominant brewery companies took notice. Guinness Nigeria Plc a subsidiary of Diageo Plc, the world’s biggest distiller was the first to launch ‘Orijin’ in 2013. Since then, ‘Orijin’ has captured more than 50 percent of the market for non-beer bottled drinks (ready-to-drink) with similar alcohol strength, according to data tracker, Nielsen Nigeria.
“Orijin has been hugely successful for us in Nigeria,” Chris Stagg, Diageo’s General Manager for Innovation, said by phone from London.
‘Orijin’ is a bitter-sweet blend of gin, herbal and fruit flavours. There are two variants – one is the bitter-sweet blend, low in alcohol but with a bitter-sweet taste that does not taste like other bitters in the market. Then, there is the ‘Orijin’ that is high in alcohol content (30%), which is seen as directly competing with other bitters like Alomo, Osomo, Ogidiga, among others.
And then, there was ‘ACE’
Soon after the launching of ‘Orijin’ by Guinness Nigeria Plc, the foremost brewery company in Nigeria, Nigerian Breweries (NB) could not be left out. They launched ACE “Passion Apple Spark” in December 2014, a first of two variants.
A second variant called ‘ACE Roots’ was unveiled to the Nigerian market in February 2015. Ace roots has low sugar (one cube) and has a delightful flavor for health conscious Nigerians.
The market has received the herbal drinks from both companies well. By them entering what seemed at first like a crowded and chaotic market for herbal drinks, they have brought sanity and a higher standard to this important market segment.