In Mozambique’s bars and street stalls, the tipple of choice nowadays is a cold “Impala” a beer made from cassava rather than barley that is fast capturing a valuable slice of the African market.
Cassava, also known as manioc or yuca, is a root vegetable grown across sub-Saharan Africa as a staple crop, and has long been used to make home-brewed beer.
But in 2011 Impala became the world’s first commercially made cassava beer when it was launched by SABMiller through local subsidiary Cervejas de Mocambique (CDM).
“As long as it is ice cold, it is better,” said Dercio Machava at a backstreet stall on the outskirts of the capital Maputo, adding that its alcohol content of 6.5 percent was “a bit higher than other beers”.
“My customers say it is good. Some days, it is the beer I sell the most,” said stall-owner Dona Cecilia.
Described by its maker as a pale lager with a “rich body and taste”, the beer started as an experiment to find a locally brewed product that avoided the need to import expensive barley malt.
Impala has now sold 100 million bottles since its launch.
“It is already the third most drank beer in Mozambique,” said Pedro Cruz, director of CDM, at its state-of-the-art brewery in Maputo, which boasts a chic tasting bar.
“It has been a revolution for farmers as it gave commercial value to a plant used only for food before,” Cruz said.
“Impala enables more people to access a beer that is quality controlled, and to abandon the homemade beers that can be harmful to health.”
The health argument is a serious issue across Africa where badly made homebrews cause regular fatalities.
Last year in January, 75 people were killed by toxic beer served at a funeral in Chitima, a town in western Mozambique.
Huge potential in Africa
Africa as a whole is seen by global beer companies as a huge potential market and is predicted to grow five percent a year between 2013 and 2017.
Rival brewing giant Diageo started making its own cassava beer in Ghana in 2012, called “Ruut Extra”, which has an alcohol content of six percent.
AB InBev hopes that SABMiller’s deep roots in Africa and pioneering use of ingredients such as cassava will help it to exploit future demand among the new generation of African consumers.
Cruz, the manager who oversees the Mozambique operations, has plans to double Impala production and the number of farmers involved by 2018.