In contrast to its southern neighbor Kenya, Ethiopia’s beer-drinking culture is notably under-developed. That’s where Habesha Breweries, a subsidiary of 300-year old Bavaria Breweries, comes in. As Dutch-owned Bavaria Breweries’ first entry into the African market, Habesha Breweries has the potential to change the African brewery scene. Ayiba’s Joy Mwaniki recently spoke to Stijn Swinkels, Executive Director of Bavaria Breweries, about the brand’s growing footprint in Ethiopia.

How did you come to be in the brewing business?
Our brewery is a family business. Our family has run the brewery for about 300 years.

Image Source: Habesha Breweries

Image Source: Habesha Breweries

What defines the Habesha brand? What sets it apart?
Habesha Brewery is a special place to us, as it is for all Ethiopians who dream big to see a big future. It’s a brewery established not by tens or hundreds, but thousands of visionary Ethiopians desperate to create something big of their own. So for us it’s not only a place where the finest malt meets the purest water of Debre Berhan, but it’s also a constant reminder of what unity can do to build a better Ethiopia.

Some of the things that set apart the Habesha brand are the pride and legacy of the Habesha people, who share a common bond and unity. Habesha have a winner’s mentality. Ethiopians have never run and been satisfied with silver or bronze, they always run to be number one. As gold winners, they are aware of our everyday efforts and successes, and are confident in their knowledge of the steps required to secure future success.

How did you come up with the brand logo?
One thing that makes us proud is the history of the Habesha people, as it goes back beyond millennia and is passed to us by our fathers and forefathers. From all of the original symbols, icons, and drawings Habesha ancestors used throughout history, our beautiful logo—which we call Lucy—has always been an icon reflecting beauty and respectfulness—the display of her portrait brings back these beloved memories of the past, and reminds us of their forefathers’ infinite values.

What interest does a Dutch brewery have in the Ethiopian market?
We are a family business and our mission is to let the world enjoy our beer. We see a future where we have roots in local soil which means that we want to help to develop business locally. At the same time we look for partners that are helping us to develop roots locally. Our strengths in this partnership are our family values, brewing technology, and our capability to work and build business together. Our vision is to build a worldwide family.

In Ethiopia we found a family of shareholders with the same dream: to build business and future together. Our family values matched the values of the Ethiopian community and for this reason we were able to build a beautiful brewing business together.

How does the beer market differ in Ethiopia from other parts of Africa and the world?
Ethiopia has never been colonized and there is a very strong bonding between the peoples of Ethiopia. Likewise there is a unique and ancient beer culture in Ethiopia as people have been brewing beers in their homes for ages. The main ingredient for beer is malting barley; Ethiopia is unique since it has the biggest barley-growing areas of Africa and the whole infrastructure for making beer is present.

What difficulties have you faced working in Ethiopia?
Our main challenges were to manage four different cultures involved in building the brewery (Dutch, Chinese, Ethiopian, and Czech) and finding local finance. In the end we were very happy to succeed in both.

Image Source: Habesha Breweries

Image Source: Habesha Breweries

What great experiences have you had working in Ethiopia?
Working together with our shareholders, board of directors, management, and consumers is very exciting. People are happy with our work. When you order a Habesha beer people start smiling. We could help to make a dream come true for 8,000 shareholding families, and millions of Ethiopians. As a family business this is the most rewarding experience you can have.

What future plans for expansion does Habesha Breweries have?
Our mission is to reach and connect with every Ethiopian.