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Nigerian Breweries Plc and Guinness Nigeria Plc are at it again. The beer rivalry between both companies took a new turn with the recent launch of Ace Roots by Nigerian Breweries to take on the popular Orijin. Orijin entered the market a little over a year ago and it has recorded phenomenal success even as the blended root/herbal-flavoured spirit-mixed drink was subjected to de-marketing by rivals, which many believed was the handiwork of the Nigerian Breweries.

Speculations over the health status of the drink didn’t deter fans. A fan of Orijin, who gave his name as Thomas debunked the allegation saying he enjoys the drink because it has an African feel due to the herbal flavour. The Oba of Lagos, His Royal Highness Rilwan Akiolu is said to be a fan as it was reported that he confessed he ‘was high on Orijin’ when he made the infamous Lagoon speech to Igbos during the recently concluded governorship election in Lagos State.

However, some consumers of Orijin have complained about the ‘sweetness’, alleging that the beer contains a lot of sugar. “That is why you have the Orijin Bitters,” says a fan of the drink, advising those who do not like the after (sweet) taste.

Enter Ace Roots

Following the success recorded by Orijin in the market and not wanting to be left behind in the spirit-mixed brand which is the rave of the moment, the Nigerian Breweries launched the Ace Roots to take on its rival. According to Femi Akinola, a sales representative with Nigerian Breweries, it took the company about a year to come up with Ace Roots after studying market for flavoured herbal drink. He noted that unlike Orijin which has sugar, Ace Roots he said, is made with Aspartame; an industrial sweetner used in ice creams, which according to him is better than sugar. While Orijin is made of spirit-mixed herbal flavoured beer, Akinola said Ace Roots is made of original herbal mixture of 14 herbs with fruit and spices. However, beer lovers have likened both drinks in taste, alcoholic content and colour.

In a bid to take a slice of the market for Orijin, Ace Roots is currently being sold at a cheaper price than its rival. Some Orijin fans have decided to vote with their feet; queuing behind the latest herbal brand. While Orijin goes for N300, Ace Roots sells for N200; a massive discount for some consumers.

Aggressive marketing

However, the success recorded by Orijin has become a reference point in effective marketing strategy. Guinness Nigeria, according to some observers, seized the initiative to modernise popular locally-brewed herbal mixtures which broadened the appeal. Herbal mixtures such as Alomo Bitters and Oshomo were popular among the semi-literate class. “What Guinness did was to take their brand name and stamp it on the herbal mixture which communicated quality and safety to consumers and the product just went viral,” says Prosper, a brand strategist. Nigerian Breweries is trying to achieve the same with its product.

Meanwhile, Guinness Nigeria is making frantic efforts to contain the inroads made by Ace Roots. Nigerian Breweries has embarked on aggressive marketing to undercut the gains made by Orijin. At drinking spots across the country, sales representatives of both companies are seen introducing their products to customers trying to outdo each other. At drinking spots, Nigerian Breweries sales representatives approach tables where customers ordered Orijin to exchange it for Ace Roots free of charge. Conversely, Guinness Nigeria sales agents are seen giving one free bottle of Orijin for every two bottles purchased.

The last has not been seen in the beer war between both companies; which match each other in products and services. While the competition sometimes border on the unethical; sometimes resulting in de-marketing, consumers are, however, the better for it as the price war helps them consume more products. Industry watchers say the brewery sector is one that has not been severely affected by inflation and it is very sensitive to price movement. They believe breweries are knee-jerk when it comes to increasing price for fear of losing market share for their leading products to their rivals who may not increase price. The Orijin, Ace Roots war is one of the several beer wars fought by both giants; but in this war, the consumers are better for it.

By Osaze Omoragbon

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