The second-largest brewery company in the country, Guinness Nigeria Plc, has said it will pay lesser focus on its lager brands in 2020 because of the current global health crisis caused by COVID-19.

This information was disclosed by the Finance and Strategy Director of Guinness Nigeria, Mr Stanley Njoroge, while addressing analysts, the media and others at an investor call last Friday in Lagos.

According to him, the company has taken this decision because of the issue of pricing in the sector, which is making beer makers declare losses, especially when many of them cannot increase the price of their products despite a hike in excise duty on alcohol and tobacco in the country.

The federal government, in 2018, increased the levy paid by producers of alcohol and tobacco in the country and this has made manufacturers in the industry to beg for life because they have found it very difficult to pass the cost to consumers, who have low purchasing power.

Also, beer makers have not had it good this year because of COVID-19 as the federal government, just like other governments across the globe, shut down the economy to control the spread of the virus.

The main markets of beer producers; hotels, bars and others, have still not been allowed to fully operate in most states of the federation.

At the conference last Friday, Mr Njoroge said because of these issues, especially with the pricing, Guinness Nigeria will pay more attention to its stout, spirit and malt brands this year.

“We don’t have the right price in lager,” he informed participants at the gathering.

Guinness Nigeria has two brands in the lager market; Harp Lager Beer and Dubic Extra Lager, with the former more popular among consumers. The former was introduced in 1974, while the latter in 2012.

According to Mr Njoroge, the management of Guinness Nigeria believes that its stout, spirit and malt brands have the ability to help the company cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations.

Also at the analyst call, he said Guinness Nigeria Plc was presently in a tight corner because of the current foreign exchange (forex) scarcity in the country.

Nigeria, which has the largest market in Africa, has been struggling with forex inflows because the Coronavirus disease has affected its main revenue source, crude oil.

Price of the black gold went as low as $20 per barrel at the global market this year and this affected the country’s forex inflows, forcing the government to lower the crude oil benchmark in the 2020 budget twice. It was first dropped from $57 per barrel to $30 per barrel and then to $28 per barrel in the approved revised appropriation bill.

Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had to suspend the weekly sale of forex to currency traders at the Bureaux De Change (BDC) window in March 2020, though this was also because of a ban on foreign flights as their main customers are international air passengers. The sale is expected to resume next Monday.

In April 2020, AirwavesReport reported that offshore investors became trapped in the country because they could not repatriate their funds as a result of forex illiquidity, which forced them to reinvest in the local debt securities and equities, which caused the boom in that period.

According to Mr Njoroge, the brewer was having sleepless nights over how to refinance its $23 million debt maturing in 2021 because of the forex issue and it is already weighing options on how to manage the debt.

“We will want to refinance it but there is no foreign currency in the market at the moment,” Mr Njoroge was quoted as saying by Bloomberg, admitting that, “Foreign exchange is a big concern for us.”

As of June, the outstanding debt of Guinness Nigeria, a subsidiary of Diageo, increased by 16 per cent to N23.2 billion ($60 million), while the finance costs rose by 74 per cent to N4.5 billion ($11.7 million) at N386/$1.

It was gathered that as at the time of publishing this report, shares of Guinness Nigeria, which closed on Wednesday at N14 per unit, were already up by 95 kobo.

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