A long-established African firm went global, only to find the fastest-growing market was on its doorstep ... ON A Friday evening in Onitsha, as the beer market is closing, a man carefully straps six cases of Hero lager and two cases of Pepsi to the pannier of his moped. Another rolls away his purchases by wheelbarrow. Coaches parked nearby will soon be filled with day-trippers and their cases of booze. Each day a vast quantity of beer is sold from this closely packed warren of stores. It is part of a sprawl of specialist markets in the city, a commercial hub on the Niger river, which draws in traders from across southern Nigeria. ... It was the bustle of Onitsha that persuaded SABMiller, the world’s second-largest beer company, to set up a brewery here. The market takes a slice of SAB’s local production and sells it on to small traders who are otherwise hard to reach. The company had been late in coming to Nigeria. First it acquired a rundown brewery in Port Harcourt in 2009 and then another in Ilesha before it built a brand-new plant in Onitsha in 2012. Already, its capacity is being increased, to slake locals’ ever-growing thirst. ... What might other consumer firms looking to Africa learn from SAB? It is not an easy place to do business and the results are not uniform. Lager sales are booming in Nigeria and Ghana but shrinking in Zimbabwe and South Sudan. And there are few reliable sources of business information: firms have to learn as they go along. ... South African businessfolk have a phrase for it: paying your school fees.
Guinness brewer William S. Gosset’s work is responsible for inspiring the concept of statistical significance, industrial quality control, efficient design of experiments and, not least of all, consistently great tasting beer. ... Because he used a pseudonym, his name isn’t even familiar to most people who frequently use his most famous discovery. Gosset is the “student” of the Student’s T-Test, a method for interpreting what can be extrapolated from a small sample of data. ... Born in 1876 in Canterbury, England, Gosset entered a world of enormous privilege. His father was a Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and though he intended to follow in his footsteps, he was unable to due to bad eyesight. Instead, Gosset attended the prestigious Winchester College, and then Oxford, where he studied mathematics and natural sciences. Soon after graduating from Oxford, in 1899, Gosset joined the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, as an experimental brewer.
Zarnkow is one of a group of researchers who over the past few decades have challenged that story. He and others have shown that alcohol is one of the most universally produced and enjoyed substances in history—and in prehistory too, because people were imbibing alcohol long before they invented writing. ... Chemical analysis recently showed that the Chinese were making a kind of wine from rice, honey, and fruit 9,000 years ago. In the Caucasus Mountains of modern-day Georgia and the Zagros Mountains of Iran, grapes were one of the earliest fruits to be domesticated, and wine was made as early as 7,400 years ago. ... All over the world, in fact, evidence for alcohol production from all kinds of crops is showing up, dating to near the dawn of civilization. ... From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious. ... To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate.