April 6th, 2010
11:33 AM GMT
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Two years ago, a visiting family member who lives in the United States commented on the number of alcohol advertisements plastered across Johannesburg.

I had never really noticed – but since then I have been watching the billboards, posters and TV advertisements – and, yes, a large proportion of advertising in this country seems to focus on drinking, drinks and getting drunk.

And it’s not just the ad men who are guilty of peddling some false nectar. South Africa is a nation of drinkers.

This is, of course, great news for the brewing companies. Over the years, founded on the heavy drinking habits of its citizens, South African Breweries (SAB Miller) has become a global brewing giant. Nowadays, it is one of the big, worldwide drinks companies with a history of aggressive multi-million-dollar acquisitions into Latin America, the United States, China and Eastern Europe. Last year, SAB Miller’s global beer division made $15 billion in revenue.

Now SAB Miller is being challenged on its home turf.  Diageo, Heineken and Namibian breweries, in a joint venture, have just opened a huge $415 million brewery in Johannesburg, which will churn out Heineken and Amstel in competition to SAB Miller’s Castle and Black Label beers.

In the taverns, bars and drinking dens across the country, the "beer wars" will be fought right down to the last drop. This is because the South African beer market is lucrative and particularly appealing in the current global economic climate. It seems that even though the economy has contracted and people have lost their jobs, South Africans keep on drinking. A lot.

Emerging markets, like South Africa, are prime targets for the world’s drinks companies because of a heady blend of rapid social change, a growing percentage of young, urban drinkers and growing economic improvement.

Of course, South Africa is particularly important this year, with the FIFA World Cup to be played here in June. Over the winter, hundreds of thousands of beer-quaffing football fans will be visiting South Africa’s drinking establishments.

So, the competition will not just be on the football pitches.  The "battle of beers" will not be for the faint hearted as the big breweries go head-to-head over who commands the biggest slice of the South African drinking market.

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