The State of the Nigerian Alcoholic Beverages Industry

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Tunde Opanubi

After commentating on the industry for several years, I was becoming increasingly aware that what I was being told about developments was not what I was actually seeing in the market place. I started wondering why. Who is telling me this? Why do businesses believe it? Paying for it? Why is everyone copying everyone else? And is someone doing something about it? Or am I the only one? Well, now it looks like somebody has been doing something about it.
“And what a state it’s in!” as a response to my headline, says Steven McDermott, Director and co-founder of CSL, a Lagos-based creative research consultancy, when I met with him at his offices in Lekki. And he’s quite “miffed”, apparently an English word for angry.

“Why would a $2 billion industry (growing at 6% yearly) make its business decisions based primarily on “remote research” by people who have barely or never set foot in the country, let alone actually lived and worked here? How could you possibly understand a country and its culture(s), its nuances, its challenges and opportunities?” he asks.

Apparently the alcohol industry does. “Too much taste testing!” he jokes. Taking a more serious note he stresses (but not without a hint of irony), “they really need to come to their senses.”

This is, from this reporter’s own research is typical of Steve. “Wit and irony with a very serious undertone, and a bit of charm along the way. It’s not always easy to listen to, but he tells it as it is,” as one source said. “Classic British self-deprecation with a disarming edge. You may well take offence at first, but after reflection you realise he probably understands your business better than you do.” says another. As I quickly discovered, they were not entirely wrong.

This “remote research” as he calls it, or data collection, is conducted mainly by ‘phone, email and information gathered online with, in some cases, a contribution by “3rd party resources” on the ground.

His own research has shown that little of it is reliable, is often estimated, sometimes just simply “made-up.”
“These are business decisions that affect the whole food (or drink) chain, from the brand owners, the shareholders, the importers, distributors, marketers, advertising agencies and their clients. It doesn’t make sense.”
It was this initial frustration that led to the birth of CSL. “You can either get angry about it or do something about it,” he says.

As a London-trained creative, creative director and creative strategist with nearly 30 years experience under his belt, the last 14 here in Nigeria, and having been at the sharp end of the stick when working on projects that have been inspired by this “misinformation”, he just might have a point.

“I shudder to think how many millions of advertising dollars have been wasted over the years”, he adds. “And when you think about all the money that has been invested before it even gets to that point it gets even scarier.
So if you trace it back to its source you have the solution. If you’re the brand owner or custodian of that brand you want to be as sure as possible that your money is being used wisely.

This is not a criticism of the businesses and clients based here, they can only work with what “Global” gives them, and it takes more time (and money) to challenge it. It’s just ridiculous that these directives are being based on information being conducted by people thousands of miles away. This is not just a challenge for the Nigerian industry either. It’s continent-wide.

We’ve spent the past 12 months conducting our own research until we felt we were ready to launch. I’ve personally visited in excess of 300 outlets, gathering information, talking to people; distributors, marketers, owners, managers, customers, door-men and shelf-stackers, everybody, many several times over at various times of the day, evening and well in to the night …And that’s just Lagos.”

Clearly getting into his groove, Steve continues.
“Look, we’re here. We live here. We get it. It’s not actually rocket science. The best ideas normally aren’t.
What we offer is primarily a bespoke “brand health” service that provides honest, consistent, digestible data. Data that is meaningful, useful, actionable and up-to-date. Data that not only informs the decision-maker’s, but inspires the decision-making.

A bit like going to the doctor and hoping you don’t hear bad news. But like any good doctor we’ll tell you what you need to hear, not always what you want to hear. And of course prescribe the appropriate treatment. It may be a couple of headache tablets or major surgery, but you can be sure we won’t put lipstick on a pig!”
Clearly passionate about his “mission”, he apologies to this journalist for “blathering on… I think when I talk, weird I know” and says, “Let me land!” And adds, “Perhaps we should have just done a Q&A!”
“We visit both the on- and off-trade outlets. We see what people are buying or consuming, who they are, where they are and when.

We consider the demographics, the merchandising, the pricing and the competition amongst several other factors.
We meet with the local customs authorities, industry bodies and distributors.

We prepare the final report, and as it’s a combination of qualitative and quantitive research, our interpretation of the data and recommendations are based on insights we‘ve gathered after years of experience on the ground.
And when you come from a creative background you see things rather differently than a desk-bound analyst 3000 miles away!

We see what is happening today and are far better positioned to predict what will happen tomorrow.
Or to put it another way, we create simplicity out of chaos.”

“The timing couldn’t be more perfect”, Steve adds, “there’s a global backlash against the over-reliance of ‘big data’ and algorithms, especially from the large multinationals like P&G and Unilever. Which is great for us as obviously our service will not just available to the alcohol industry.”

He says, “Therefore a final nod should go to the former CEO of Unilever Africa, Frank Braeken, another source of inspiration. He said, and I quote, ‘the data we have for Africa we don’t need, the data we need we don’t have.’”
“Well, now you do.” You may or may not agree with Steve. For a confidential chat you can contact Steve directly on 0806 007 3847 for more information.