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South Africa’s Craft Beer Industry Is Booming

Craft beer is defined as any beer that’s brewed by small independent breweries, using traditional, non-mechanical methods. According to the official Craft Brewers Association, less than 25% of craft beer breweries are owned by a major alcohol company, and even in those cases the brewers themselves work independently from the brands. In South Africa, “South Africa Breweries” is the company that has been dominating the entire beer distribution industry since the industry first began in South Africa, according to CNN. However, as this new wave of independent brewing has grown in popularity and blown up online amongst millennials, South Africa is seeing a major shift in it’s otherwise stagnant beer industry. 

According to CNN, craft beer first began its South African journey in 1983 with the first-ever craft brewery location in the Western Cape. The industry remained fairly small until the early 2000’s when more and more of these businesses began appearing, however, the production and market value was still scattered. It wasn’t until around five years ago that craft beer began gaining more traction amongst South Africans. Now, there are around 220 craft breweries in South Africa, according to the Craft Brewers Association – South Africa (CBASA). This number still only makes up about a 1% share of the entire beer industry in South Africa (CBASA), however, it’s important to note that the entirety of this area has been controlled by one manufacturer (South Africa Breweries) since beer first started getting sold there. So the sudden new interest and growth of this more independently owned industry, is quite remarkable. 

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“South Africa went from a handful of microbreweries dotted around the country prior to 2010, to suddenly taking an interest in craft beer. This meant an explosion of brands from garage brewing origins, some of these good, some of them bad, and not many with the packaging technology to present a beer well in retail and distribution channels,” says Brendan Hart, founder of Frontier Beer Co., a craft brewery established in 2016. 

“Craft in South Africa is still quite small, but it does have its share of the market. Younger consumers are looking for alternatives,” said Zoleka Lisa, vice president of corporate affairs at South Africa Breweries. 

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Hart went on to discuss how South Africa has been known for its lager like Italy is known for its pasta, it’s just what’s always been popular. Moving away from traditional consumer wants to something new, young, and refreshing, is always a major risk, hence why it’s taken so long for the craft beer industry to get any traction in South Africa. However, at the same time, companies are aware that as the younger generations grow older and become a new major consumer demographic, moving away from tradition sometimes isn’t an option.

South Africa is also extremely unique compared to European and American markets, as they have access to a handful of indigenous plants and ingrediants to incorporate into their brews. This diversity in potential ingredients allows for independent brewers to have an endless possibility of flavors for their consumers to enjoy. This also means there’s a greater ability for each brewery to have their own unique edge over its competitors. With hundreds of thousands of recipe and priduction options, it’s going to take a lot to slow down this new trend of brewing. 

South Africa has become the world’s 12th largest beer producer in general, and with the global craft beer market earning $38 billion in sales in 2018 and an expectation for that number to grow 14% by 2023 (CNN), South Africa is ready to fully embrace the new wave of beer distribution and manufacturing.