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A refreshing take on agriculture

Interview - August 7, 2014
Accra Brewery Ltd was established in 1931 and today manufactures a range of quality beer products such as Club Premium lager, Chibuku, Eagle lager and its latest innovation, Stone lager. It also develops non-alcoholic beverages such as malt and soft drinks. Apart from refreshing Ghanaians with its products, it is also a large employer both directly and indirectly, sourcing its raw materials such as cassava locally. It is also assisting farmers to develop new techniques and farming processes to facilitate productivity. Mr. Anthony Grendon, Managing Director for Accra Brewery Ltd, speaks to PM about this and the agricultural sector in general in Ghana.
After the 2008 world economic crisis investors are looking for new horizons. This makes Africa very attractive; huge investment opportunities exist on the continent. The continent, and Ghana is no exception, it has some critical priorities, like agriculture, infrastructure and power supply. These topics will be discussed this October in the Global African Investment Summit. As an international businessman, why would you say Ghana should be the chosen destination?

If you look at recent reports that reflect the potential of Ghana, you soon realize the massive opportunity that exists. African regional reports talk about Accra and Kumasi as some of the more desirable cities to do business on the continent. The more investor friendly press and attention that Ghana can receive will only aid and fuel international funding and support. Current investors in the country will benefit from and contribute towards this momentum.

The African Union named 2014 the Year of Agriculture, which shows there is a big commitment towards the sector. With ABL being related to the sector, what is your assessment on agriculture in Africa and how can it be further encouraged and developed in Ghana?

Agriculture in Africa is stepping out of the shadows of subsistence and accelerating the move towards a more structured and commercially energized industry. The role of investors in this regard is imperative. We at SABMiller believe investing in a country comes with the responsibility of ensuring that the environment in which we operate and the people with whom we engage, are better off because of our presence. We make every effort where we can to utilize local raw materials and ingredients for our products, be it through local farmers or local suppliers. Education of suppliers and farmers is part and parcel of this in terms of techniques and standards, not only from a quality stand point but also from efficiencies, yields and sustainable productivity perspective. The more we develop this opportunity the more we grow the symbiotic relationship.

We can talk about growth of the local communities and jobs but the bottom line is the more we grow brands with local ingredients, the more we grow farmers. We think that is really important.

This year the economy is showing some signs of slowing down. Last May, the National Economic Forum was held to address the situation and one of the important topics was adding value and diversifying the economy, especially in the agricultural sector. Accra Brewery Ltd. is an example of that, since it uses local products. What do you think is the message you are sending to other players?

The country is going through a testing period right now. Economies have cycles. We have had positive growth for the last number of years, obviously it is tough in dollar terms but we need to cycle through this period and with our current investment, the message we are sending is one of confidence in the future and faith in the government to make the required fiscal adjustments.

Your origins in Ghana date from 1931. You are one of the oldest non-traditional manufacturing businesses in Ghana, and also the oldest brewery in West Africa. What are the major milestones Accra Brewery has achieved?

Our past can often dictate our future so reflection is important. As you correctly point out the original business was registered in 1931 in Switzerland as the Overseas Breweries Limited. In April of 1975, local registration took place to pave the way for Ghanaian participation and Accra Brewery Limited was born. In 1997 SABMiller plc (then South African Breweries) acquired controlling interest in the company. In more recent times the key milestones have been the acquisition of the number one water business in Ghana, Voltic Natural Mineral water and owning the number one beer brand in Ghana with our iconic “Charlie” - Club Premium lager.

Our resoluteness through the years has allowed us to be successful and justifiably claim these two aspirational positions.

Voltic Water is the number one water brand in Ghana, and Club Premium Lager is the number one beer brand in the country. What do you think Accra Brewery Ltd. means to Ghanaians?

The history of Accra Brewery has proven that it is a truly Ghanaian company. Often we are just seen as a beer company. I like to think that the Ghanaians see ABL as their trusted and preferred supplier of beverages.

Last year you launched your second cassava based beer in Ghana. It offers an affordable purchasing price to local consumers, helps to develop the local supply chain and contributes to the government incomes through tax revenues. How would you say Accra Brewery Ltd. is contributing to the development of Ghana?

When you have a brand or product that utilizes domestic raw materials immediately your value chains are inextricable connected. ABL provides jobs for thousands of Ghanaians as well as supporting the livelihoods of farmers through our brands that utilize locally produced raw materials. These include Club Premium lager, Chibuku, Eagle lager and our latest innovation, Stone lager, which is made from 40% locally grown rice. Our interest in our farmers does not stop there; we also assist them with new techniques and farming processes to facilitate productivity.

How do you assist them? Is it just technical or also financial?

We partner with the Roots and Tubers improvement project of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture through DADTCO to provide a variety of extension services to our cassava farmers.

In relation to that, we know Accra Brewery Ltd. is a concerned company giving back to society through various CSR initiatives. Under your new leadership, in which key areas are you going to focus these initiatives?

The past focus areas of our business with respect to CSR has been positive, so I will take my cue from there. Combining this with the context that Africa has always been stretched when it comes to water, education and health preservation, hence as we go forward I will be focusing on water availability, education partnering and health care support systems.

Besides our beer and water, our broad beverage portfolio also includes malt and soft drinks, thus we are able to target the youth. The environment is also a critical aspect for our business, so we try to create positive impacts in the environment.

You have been over 24 years in ABL’s parent company and served as Managing Director of Crown Beverages in Kenya, and Maluti Mountain Brewery in Lesotho. Mr. Simon Harvey, Operations Director of SABMiller West Africa, indicated that “with his proven track record we expect him to further enhance our commercial position in Ghana.” What is the input you are bringing to ABL, bearing in mind your vast experience, and what do you want to leave behind once you leave office?

I’ll hope to support the commercial structures within the business to that end we are here to achieve our financial targets. Competition in the market is good for the consumers and we certainly have plans to defend and consolidate our position.

But there are also our people. The wellness of our staff is a key element of our organization. We need to make sure our employees feel safe, energized and happy working at ABL and Voltic. From a personal perspective I need to be seen, to listen and to be engaging.

My introduction has been relatively easy as many of the staff know me from my previous stint in Ghana in 2007. We are going through some testing times at the moment; we have set ourselves ambitious targets and it is a journey we have undertaken and one which we will get through. Our culture is results driven and highly measured. We regularly undertake strategic reviews adjust, refresh commitments and get back to achieving the target. At the same time, we will make sure we support our people. Being a profiled company in Ghana, we need to ensure that we manage our reputation in the appropriate manner. We need to be trusted, honourable and involved.

At the beginning you were talking about local pride, and making a product that represents the country. Aguila beer is sponsoring the Colombian team in the World Cup. Can you envision in a future Club or Stone Lager sponsoring the Black Stars or being all over the world?

We are a sponsor, a fan sponsor! At this point of time, the opposition brewer is the official sponsor. We have certainly done it in the past in other countries like Zambia.

How would you define Ghanaian pride?

Ghanaians are full of passion. Having experienced southern, east, and West Africa, every nation has its own nuances and peculiarities. Each one imparts its own worthy lessons and leaves its mark. Ghanaians are bursting with excitement and vigour regarding national pride. If you speak to one, they come across as larger than life, the voice is booming, the hands are moving around, they are bursting with energy and full of life.

Thank you very much.