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Consumers shift to sachet bitter drinks as purchasing power weakens

Akeem is a Danfo driver at the popular Obalende motor park, very early in the morning before he mounts his rusty and dirty yellow cab popularly called “Danfo” he buys 5 sachets of his favourite bitter drinks, gulps two sachets and drops the remaining three in his pocket.  This has been a daily ritual in the last 2years.

“I love this “pelebe” sachet drink it makes high and “ginger” for my daily job, I can always keep them in my pocket and take it while driving,” he told BusinessDay.

On the back expensive beer drinks, the market for bitters is gradually heating up in the Nigerian beverage market. In recent times there has been a surge in the volume of sales of Bitters in the country. It is like a ‘scourge’ suddenly unleashed on the land.

They are so popular that even at highbrow retail outlets the various brands have become more visible on shelves, with brewers trying to claim some market share in the lucrative bitters market. Currently, it is like a raging bitters war at every shop, bar and no social event is complete without the sight of bitters.

Bitters made its entry into the Nigerian market about 10 years ago and since then it has gained acceptance among all classes of consumers in the country. It is no longer strange to see commercial drivers, even the smartly dressed ones, hurriedly buying bottles of bitters early in the morning before heading off for the day’s work.

The drink which is mostly taken to enhance sexual performance and virility is also acclaimed to have plants and herbs that are good for blood circulation, with anti-malaria and anti-fever properties.

In the past, Swedish and German bitters were scarcely marketed in the country and because of the limited distribution line, there was not much awareness. Also, some consumers who would have possibly used the Swedish and German products believed that they were for the rich and perhaps, not affordable by the common man.

A ‘disruption’ however came in 2011, when little-known Kasapreko Company Limited of Ghana made entry into the Nigerian market with the introduction of  Alomo Bitters brand, while Intercontinental Distillers Limited (IDL), another major player in the Nigerian beverages segment, joined much later with its Action Bitters brand.

The introduction of Alomo into the market was well received by consumers whose purchasing power have dropped due to economic contraction and seek alternatives from the costly beer brands.  Interestingly, the Bitters also came at pocket-friendly bottles and prices. Last year, the Alomo brand sold 580,000 cartons of the product in the country, translating to 13.9 million bottles.

The giant brewers (Guinness and Nigerian Breweries) have also launched their various bitters brands into the market. Guinness launched its Origin Bitter brand into the market, while Nigerian Breweries also introduced Ace Roots into the market.

Since the Kasapreko Alomo’s entrance into the market, other brands with very funny names emphasising on the aphrodisiacs nature of the drink have also made their way into the market. This includes Erujeje, Black Wood, Bajinotu Poka, Kerewa, Koboko, Kogbebe, Dadubule, Baby Oku, Pasa, Goko Bitters, etc., have also emerged to command significant market presence, thus eroding the market share of both the traditional brands and those of the established big players and multinationals in the Nigerian beverages market. Other brands have continued to play on the fringes include Yem Kem Nigeria’s Yoyo cleanser Bitters and Ruzu Bitters among others.

Another visit by BusinessDay to the popular Ojota motor park shows that the sale of Bitters is a booming market. Fidelis, a commercial driver at the park after deciding to speak with me beckoned to a seller in the kiosk shop, she emerged with several sachets of bitters drink and handed them to him.

He deposited some inside his shirt pocket and gave the woman some cash. Using his teeth to open the sachets, he threw his head back and emptied the contents in one quick gulps.

While speaking with Business Day he said the drink has become part of his life as his wife also has a shop where she sells various alcoholic drinks. “The drinks are very cheap and they come in a small size or sachet,” he said.

A seller at the park popularly called Iya Sharp noted that highest-selling alcoholic beverages in town these days are the Bitters. “You find them everywhere you go,” she said. “They are the kings of all drinks. The fact that they are cheap, alcoholic and the belief that they are very natural, having been made from herbs, leaves, and barks made many people to easily fall in love with them. The general belief that they boost sexual performance is another reason many people go for the bitters. And everyone wants a piece. That is why you see so

BusinessDay also noticed that some of the bitters brands do not have regulatory numbers. Regulatory agencies such as NAFDAC and SON must, however, double down on their efforts to rid the Nigerian market of unlicensed herbal bitter drinks that may be injurious to unsuspecting members of the public. 

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