War on Illicit Brew Paying Off – Keroche Boss

By Macharia Mwangi

When President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a crackdown on illicit brew, the country heaved a sigh of relief because the illegal alcohol had become a huge menace in the country.

Many consumers of the alcohol had died while many more had gone blind while others had been turned into zombies, especially in central Kenya.The President gave MPs express powers to lead the operation. Some legislators went about their new assignment with zeal, even rubbing the licensed brewers the wrong way.

Although some legal beer makers had complained of harassment by the mob that went out in hunt for the brew, the exercise is now beginning to bear fruits.

In an exclusive interview with Smart Company, Keroche chief executive officer Tabitha Karanja, says sales for her company have gone up by about 50 per cent in the low-end market.

"We are happy that now those doing legitimate liquor business are eating the fruits of their labour. The market was saturated with killer brews and despite us raising concerns, no one cared to listen," she said.

"The President directive was timely despite some of the MPs becoming overzealous while discharging the mandate bestowed upon them. The move is now making a lot of economic sense. The market has opened up and we are doing good business."

EXCISE DUTY

Paying more than Sh200 million monthly in excise duty and still forced to complete with some nondescript entities was a test of confidence for Ms Karanja, but she soldiered on in the face of adversity. "The sanity is being brought back and the economic benefits are trickling in. We are hoping to cash on the gains," added Ms Karanja.

With business prospects more sanguine than ever, Ms Karanja is promising more employment opportunities. She said good things are in store for Kenyans if the current favourable business environment is sustained.

Ms Karanja said the move by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to introduce Excisable Goods Management System EGMS (EGMS) has also helped reduce illegitimate products from the market.

"EGMS has helped curb the hitherto, nascent but illegal alcoholic spirits that was uncontrolled. Coupled with tax stamp, this provides some level of consumer confidence that the product are of the permitted quality standards," she said. Mrs Karanja further stated that integrating EGMS Secure Coding Line on their existing packaging plant will help to expand the legitimate market by curbing the proliferation of illegally packaged alcohol.

Keroche is now expanding rapidly and has set sights on acquiring 20 per cent of the local market share soon.

"I have been out in the field introducing my chain of brands to new consumers and the response was way beyond my expectations," she said.

"My eyes are now trained on the regional market which I plan to venture into, in the next six months. Why not? We have the capacity," she asserted.

Keroche Breweries is currently upgrading its factory at a cost of Sh5 billion with an eye to produce more than 600,000 bottles a day. The firm seeks to have a 20 per cent market share.

"The new plant has the capacity to produce 30 different brands, giving me a golden chance to stake a claim at the cutthroat market," says Mrs Karanja.

Source: All Africa