Has Star Lager Beer finally surrendered to competition?
Star Lager Beer is a flagship beer brand of Nigerian Breweries launched in 1949. In fact, the brand fondly called “Star- Shine Shine Bobo” by drinkers and non-drinkers arguably ruled its sector for so many years dominating the marketplace across the country. Godwin Anyebe of ConsumerAssembly, Amechi Obiakpu of ESPI News and Adetunji Faleye of Brand Impact, all of MediaConsortium take a look at the current status of Star Lager Beer in the Nigerian market.
All over the world, competition is an inevitable part of businesses of any size. It is not a necessary evil, but rather an important part of the business ecosystem. In fact, competition can be an effective tool for growing and improving a business.
It’s worthy of note that, The presence of competition means that customers have the option to choose between competing brands. When there is competition, brand handlers know that customers are patronising their brand not because their brand is the only one out there, but because among the others out there, their brand appealed to them the most.
Analysts are of the view that competition is important for business because it provides reassurance that a brand is getting customers because of its quality. For these analysts, in today’s business topography, it’s either brand custodians deploy their marketing arsenal in order to remain relevant in the marketplace or bow to competition.
Star Lager Beer
This seems to be the case with Star Lager Beer, the flagship brand of Nigerian Breweries. Star Lager Beer is Nigeria’s first beer launched by Nigerian Breweries in 1949. The brand enjoyed market dominance for decades.
Though other beer brands made entrant into Nigerian beer market but, Nigerian Breweries always had its way. For about thirty years Nigerian Breweries through Star Lager Beer and Gulder had the entire market to itself.
Of course, this feat must not be unconnected with the experience the company gathered from Heineken. The relationship between Nigerian Breweries and Heineken started in 1946 when United Africa Company of Nigeria (UAC) and Heineken signed a contract to incorporate Nigerian Breweries. Heineken eventually took over Nigerian Breweries in year 2000, making it a subsidiary of the Heineken Group of companies.
Up till early 2000, Star Lager Beer dominated the Nigerian beer market. One of the reasons for this success is the fact that the brand handlers introduced programs such as TV reality shows and brand experiences for their customers through initiatives that included: STAR Mega Jam, STAR Trek the Music, STAR Quest among others.
However, between 2010 to 2016, these initiatives that were used to drive consumer loyalty for Star Lager Beer were rested. And it was at that period that Star Lager Beer gradually started going into oblivion.
In an obvious attempt to reclaim market leadership, the brand custodians at a time thought that, the youth demographics shift in choice in a lager saturated market has had a seismic impact on Star’s mind and market share. This is exactly one of the reasons that made Nigerian Breweries to unveil Burna Boy as the first ever brand ambassador for Star Lager Beer in 2018. Even at that, the brand is hardly seen in most of the bars across the country.
What people say
In fact, investigation carried out by the intelligent unit of MediaConsortium revealed that, Star Lager Beer is existing in the past. For instance, a bar owner, Charles Danson who own Charlie’s Spot Bar in Aboru, Agbado Oke-Odo, Lagos State said that, the last time he saw Star Lager Beer in his bar was more than five years ago.
When MediaConsurtium asked him what could be the reason for the disappearance of the brand from the market space, he stressed that it’s simply the failure of the brand custodians, adding that, they succeeded in killing the brand by resting initiatives that were known to drive sales for the brand.
For Sola Adewale, an automobile mechanic at Mechanic Village, Tipper Garage, Akute, Ogun State, it is a pity that he has not seen star for some years now. He said the unavailability of the drink has led to his loss of interest in the brand.
In another development, a sales man with J.S Taka Foundation, a very big resort in Makurdi, Benue State told our correspondence that, he cannot remember when last he saw Star Lager Beer in their bar. “in fact customers don’t even ask for the brand again,” he added.
Also, Samson Irmiya who own Big Sam Joint in Nyaya, Abuja pointed out that, Star Lager Beer to him, has gone into extinction, noting that, in recent times, no customer has ever ask him for the brand in his bar.
Also, John Anthony barman at Padell Lounge, lion of Judah, Okunola, Egbeda disclosed that, demand for star Larger is very low, adding that, the preference at the bar and around is Trophy and Goldberg.
He does not think the trend is associated with price, however he believes that with marketing activities and promo for Star brand such as working on the price which is slightly higher than other beer brand can help the brand to bounce back.
According to him, “the brand owners must come up with lasting marketing programs that will create a lasting awareness programme for the brand.”
On her part, Joy Chioma from De-light Bar said; “before now, star used to be the toast of beer drinkers but now star beer has been relegated to the back seat.”
Speaking on how the brand can bounce back, she stressed that, “market and more market is the solution, people need to be assured that their once darling star, “shine shine bobo” is still the same with same quality and quantity.”
Also speaking, Mike Ugwu, Bar Manager at Afri villa resort said; beer demand is usually 33 Export Beer, Goldberg, and trophy, adding that, patronage for star is abysmally low, the demand is shifting to 33 Export Beer, Goldberg and Trophy.
According to him, this shift in consumer taste is occasioned by factors like influenced by the drinking habit of people at the time, noting that, the brand handlers must study the trend and know how to adapt to it.
Interestingly, it’s also believed in some quarters that, the rebranding and promotion of 33 Export, Life Lager, and Goldberg is a factor to why Star Lager Beer has become a brand of the past. The rebranding of those brands were no doubt successful and consumers really took to them. They became competition for Star even though they were now under the same brewery. Star Lager Beer started losing market dominance gradually.
Also, competition from outside the Nigerian Breweries family played a huge role to why Star is crawling today. Other international breweries like SABMiller, and AB InBev began to enter the Nigerian beer market and started acquiring some other local breweries that weren’t large enough to compete with Nigerian Breweries. This created a more level playing ground.
Already, existing beer brands like Trophy had a fighting chance now. Hero beer came into the scene as well and enjoyed massive acceptance especially in the Southeast. The beer market that was flooded with two major beer brand: Star and Gulder suddenly became very crowded in the space of few years.
The situation has become worrisome that analysts asked whether there is still a brand manager for Star. Some of these analysts also speculated that, what has happened to the brand was a deliberate effort by the management of Nigerian Breweries to ‘kill’ the brand. Reason being that, it was becoming clearer that people preferred 33 Export, Life, and Goldberg to Star.
In his article entitled: “Sade Morgan: From soft drink to alcoholic marketing” published in Business Day Newspapers, in the middle of 2019, a Consummate Brands and Marketing Analyst, Dan Obi opined that, “Nigerian Breweries has over the years enjoyed its deep connection with consumers through various communication channels and this it intends to continue especially in the competitive environment and the present consumer changing habits. Sade is expected to deepen this communication in order to win with consumers and Nigeria.”
According to him, “with her pedigree, analysts expect that Sade will perfectly fit into the new job as her predecessor; Kufre Ekanem did who joined NBL from Cadbury where he was selling Bournvita and Tom Tom. In addition to bonding well with media practitioners and felicitating with them at various points, Kufre introduced unique programmes such as Masters Beer Academy and Beer Symposium. The programmes were designed to highlight and share contemporary knowledge about beer as alcoholic but no added sugar product against beliefs.”
Continuing, the Institution, as he is fondly called disclosed that, “for the last three years, Nigerian Breweries has not held the symposium. In one of the symposia, experts underscored health benefits of beer consumption. This attracted the wrath of Consumer Protection Council, CPC to commence investigation into the veracity of the claims saying the claims were capable of luring unsuspecting consumers into unwholesome consumption of the product.”
“though the experts spoke on both the negative and positive of drinking beer but their summation was moderate drinking instead of over indulgence. It is not clear whether the non-hosting of this symposium is over the issue between CPC and Nigerian Breweries,” he added.
Also, he stressed that, “another innovative approach to marketing introduced by Kufre was the engagement of forward-thinking agencies that assisted to deepen the relationship with stakeholders including the media and further the brands among consumers.”
“Sade may also try to understand whether similar social programmes such as Star Trek, Ultimate Gulder Search, Star Quest and Star Mega Jam were stopped due to funding or insecurity in the land. Star which production began in 1949 is noted for major music shows in Nigeria,” he noted.
Sadly, efforts made by MediaConsortium team to get comments from Nigerian Breweries on the current status of Star Lager Beer were not successful. For instance, both mails and short message service (SMS) sent to Sade Morgan, the Corporate Affairs Director of Nigeria Breweries failed to produce any comment in spite acknowledging the mails and SMS.
Juxtaposing Obi’s analysis with current happenings therefore, one can easily decipher that, Nigerian Breweries have soft pedal in terms of communications which is key to brand building and sustainability under Sade Morgan compare to the days of Kufre Ekanem.
In fact, a research carried out by a research company in 2020 revealed that Star is not in the top 10 beer brand people would recommend to someone to drink. From its Nigerian Breweries-Heineken family, Life, Champion beer, and Heineken itself make the top 10.
Checking several other beer rankings as well, Star still fails to make the top 10. This clearly shows that with the increased options and other beer brands now readily available as Star used to be, people prefer these other brands over Star. What can be said of this is that Star enjoyed market dominance because there was no stiff competition.
For Star Lager Beer, it may be difficult for the brand to reclaim market leadership at the moment, but adopting an approach to change its methods of promotion, which can include raising the advertising budget or using the power of branding for the brand can be of help.
In addition, it’s important for the management of Nigerian Breweries to understand that, its flagship and Iconic brand such as Star Lager Beer cannot just go into extinction. Therefore, they should know that, everybody likes a good sale, and being able to entice customers to return through lower prices can be an excellent short-term strategy. However, they should keep in mind that competitors will see this and also lower prices in turn. This benefits consumers but can lead to a race to the bottom for producers.