The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted organisations across Africa to invest in distilling facilities for the first time, and prompted existing distillers and brewers to innovate and diversify.
This is according to Hendre’ Barnard Training and Marketing Manager at Distillique – one of the partners of food & drink technology Africa trade exhibition.
Barnard says that in South Africa, the majority of craft distillers survived the lockdown and restrictions on alcohol sales; with many of them using the time to innovate and diversify their product lines. “A lot of the companies are now lining up export projects; and others have diversified into new lines such as non-alcoholic beverages,” he says.
The lockdown has had a significant impact on the local market, with a massive increase in home brewing and distilling. “This put strain on the supply chain for raw materials such as yeast: because of demand from home distillers, we were selling 200kg of yeast in one hour at one stage. Where we normally buy 50 – 60kg every two months, we were ordering a ton at a time.” “Because of bottlenecks in imports, there are still some challenges in the brewing and distilling supply chain”, he says.
Barnard adds that the coming festive season will likely be disappointing in terms of sales. “Right now, craft brewers and distillers are focused on recovering, and some are trying to increase sales direct to the consumer rather than through an intermediary. They should also cut costs wherever possible and not over-produce for the festive season. We don’t know what level of lockdown we will be at this December, and because of the economic impact of the lockdown, there is a chance that sales will be lower than they were last year,” he says.
Pan Africa steps up production
“Elsewhere in Africa, many countries realised they were too dependent on alcohol imports when the pandemic struck, and we now see a surge in interest in distillery equipment across a number of countries.”
Barnard notes that distilling equipment is needed not just for consumable alcohol, but also for industrial alcohol and essential oil distillation. With a surge in demand for alcohol-based sanitisers and a global market for certain essential oils for use in cosmetics, there are growing opportunities for African entrepreneurs to open distilleries to meet demand.
“At food & drink technology Africa, we have an excellent opportunity to engage with delegates from across the continent, showcasing our equipment which has been built and adapted specifically for the unique African environment, where heat, humidity and erratic power are all concerns,” says Barnard.
Fresh interest in brewing, distilling
Barnard reports that home brewing that took place during the ban on alcohol has driven new interest in the art of brewing and distilling, which could be good news for craft brewers and distillers.
Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, Brewmaster and founder of Brewsters Craft, which offers contract brewing, consulting, an academy and a laboratory, expects new craft breweries and a great deal of innovation to come out of the lockdown. “We are seeing a lot of interest from people wanting training so they can start their own craft breweries. There is also a lot more product and branding innovation taking place. People are now looking to bring to market new flavours, exciting new products, and even more non-alcoholic craft beverages like ginger beer. The lockdown may have given people time to research brewing, or perhaps they were driven to seek new revenue streams, but coming out of lockdown we see a lot of new activity in this space.”
Nxusani-Mawela is optimistic about the prospects for a good summer holiday season for craft brewers: “I think people are just tired of being stuck at home and they want to go out and explore new things,” she says.
Nxusani-Mawela, who has participated in food & drink technology Africa since 2016 and a partner since 2018, says the trade show gives would-be brewers access to the latest technology and equipment, and allows Africa to showcase its capabilities to international leaders. “Having all the suppliers and buyers from around the world and across Africa in one place makes it important to be there,” she says.
Dain Richardson, Senior Exhibition Manager of food & drink technology Africa, says the pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities for the food and drink sector across Africa: “We’re hearing encouraging reports of organisations that are starting to pivot and seek new opportunities despite the lockdown and slowed economy,” she says.
“Partnering with leading industry bodies and stakeholders such as Plastics SA, SAAFFI, Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) Africa Sector, Craft Brewers Association South Africa (CBASA), BICSA, Brewsters Craft and Distillique gives us as the event organisers deep insight into the evolving environment, and allows us to shape our event to address the changing needs of the sector,” she says.
To help industry stakeholders across the continent to adapt and seize new opportunities, food & drink technology Africa 2021 will focus on emerging technologies and solutions to help modernise operations and improve efficiencies.