For many decades now, Nigerian Breweries Plc. (NB) has been the undisputed Number One in Nigeria’s beer market. The group is expanding vigorously, but is meanwhile having to cope with fiercer competition. NB/Heineken upsizes its brewing and filling capacities firstly by acquisitions, and secondly by upgrading its existing facilities. The group’s operations include six complete lines from Krones. Its most recent investment was a new returnable-glass line at its Aba brewery in 2012, which replaced two existing smaller lines.
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NB ranks as a pioneer on Nigeria’s beer market, having been founded back in 1946 as a joint venture between Heineken and the United Africa Company (Unilever at the time). It was in 1949 that the newly built brewery in Lagos produced “Star Lager” for the first time, which has been Nigeria’s most popular brand of beer to this very day. Over the course of decades, NB has achieved strategically favourable positioning in all parts of this huge country: in 1957 by inaugurating the Aba brewery in the east of the country, in 1963 with Kaduna in the north, and in 1982 with Ibadan in the west. In 1993, NB acquired its fifth brewing facility, in Enugu. Number Six was built in 2003 at Amaeke in the eastern province of Enugu. The plant named Ama replaced the old Enugu Brewery and is still the group’s largest production facility today. In 2008, NB expanded its portfolio yet again, with a malthouse of its own in Aba, in which locally grown sorghum is malted, which NB uses in different concentrations not only for the Heineken and Amstel brands but for all its other beer varieties as well. In order to upsize capacities still further, NB took over Sona Systems in 2011, with two brewing facilities in Ota and Kaduna, plus Life Breweries in Onitsha.
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With these acquisitions, NB also expanded its brand portfolio. The undisputed “Star” in this, however, is and remains the eponymous lager, because this beer – which is much in demand among the younger consumers, in particular – has for years now been accounting for the highest market volume in the medium-class segment. With “Legend Stout”, which is brewed at three facilities, NB serves the stout beer segment, originally created by Guinness, which tends to appeal most to best-agers. “Maltina” is Nigeria’s most popular malt-based soft drink, supported by the less sugary “Amstel Malta”. The malt-based carbonated soft drink “Fayrouz” is produced not only in Nigeria but in Egypt as well. It is available in two flavours, pear and pineapple, and has recently also been sold in PET bottles. Among the group’s latest product launches is the herb-based energy drink “Climax” and the “Gulder” lager beer. Other new brands in the portfolio, as a result of fresh acquisitions, include Goldberg, Life Continental, and the malt drink Malta Gold. In all, with these additions, in 2011 NB was producing 29 different stock-keeping units (SKUs). By far the dominant form of packaging at NB is the returnable glass bottle, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the total. The can is the second-most-important sales package; there is no kegged beer, while PET is only marginal for “Fayrouz”.
Six complete lines from Krones
“One of NB’s big advantages is the densely meshed national sales network, which we have purposefully built up over the years with our wholesalers”, explains Celestine Igbukolo, Nigeria National Engineering Manager at NB. “Despite the capacities we still have available, we have to do some more upsizing, because our overall growth is so strong”, he emphasises. The filling capacity of the brewery in Aba, for example, has now been increased by installing the new Krones line in the autumn of 2012. A similar expansion project is being planned for the Ama brewing facility during 2014. There are now two complete lines from Krones up and running in Aba, and in Ama NB installed no fewer than four complete Krones lines in 2002 and 2003.
“Since 2002, our philosophy has been to always award complete lines to a single manufacturer”, adds Celestine Igbukolo. “This means we always have just one company to interface with for all the issues involved. What’s more, certain electronic assemblies in the individual machines of a line are the same, which makes things a whole lot easier in terms of the spares inventory.”
Ups and downs in Aba
The brewery in Aba, which serves the markets around Aba and Calabar in the south of the country, was built in 1957 with a capacity of 500,000 hectolitres on a site measuring 12 hectares. When in 2005 NB inaugurated the huge new brewery in Enugu, Aba’s production output was concomitantly downsized. One year later, NB began to bottle soft drinks here. In 2008, beer bottling was once again resumed at the Aba brewery, with a new line from Krones. In 2009, moreover, NB decided to upsize the capacity in the brewhouse and the cellar. In 2012, finally, capacity was once again increased by commissioning a canning line and the new returnable-glass line from Krones. Following the removal of the two older lines, Aba will be using only the two Krones lines from 2008 and 2012, plus a new canning line. By the end of 2013, the brewhouse and the cellar will also have been expanded to accommodate this capacity.
The new line replaced two smaller, older ones, and is designed for an output of 30,000 0.66-litre bottles, or 35,000 0.33-litre containers. It has been installed directly next to the identically sized and equipped Krones line dating from 2008. “We regard this output level as the maximum. The soiled returnable crates literally muck things up. The sand adhering, which the desert winds bring to Nigeria from the Sahara, is extremely bad for the conveyors. People in Europe probably can’t imagine anything like this. After three weeks, the crate washer’s pumps are full of sand, and have to be cleaned. In Africa, you see, we have to live with different challenges”, explains Celestine Igbukolo.
The crates are unloaded from the pallet automatically by a Pressant 1NT, and then have the sand removed from them by a crate sprayer. After the bottles have been extracted by a Smartpac, a Linajet crate washer removes the dirt from the crates, while the bottles are washed in the Lavatec KD5 double-end washer. Downstream, there is an option for running washed bottles in a bypass to the packer and afterwards for renewed storage outdoors. If the empties are left exposed to the hot African sun for too long, there is a risk that the labels will bake onto the glass and become difficult to detach. This is why they are pre-washed if necessary, and the labels removed, before the bottles are returned outdoors for interim storage.
Seven different product units
Both the mass conveyor belts downstream of the bottle washer’s discharge and also the single-lane conveyors after spacing with a Glideliner are roofed over with a stainless steel hood, so as to prevent recontamination. A Linatronic M2 empty-bottle inspector of the latest generation with a separate caustic inspection capability then monitors the cleaned empty bottles before they enter the Mecafill VKPV, a counterpressure beer filler with 96 valves and 18 crowning heads. This filler is fitted with a foam-cleaning feature, while cleaning in place is handled by the VarioClean CIP system from the Krones line opposite. “We’ve stuck with this field-proven filler model, because we’re very satisfied with the existing fillers of this design. The Mecafill is a very sturdy machine, and precisely the right one for us.” After the bottles have been filled, a Checkmat FM-X uses X-rays to inspect them in order to verify the correct fill level, and then they are passed through a SHIELD double-deck tunnel pasteuriser before being dressed in neck and shoulder labels by a Topmatic machine featuring two cold-glue stations. Finally, a Checkmat FE-X inspects them for correct label placement, and for the fill level following pasteurisation. The bottles are now brought together again with the crates inspected by a Checkmat VK, packed by a Smartpac packer, and then palletised by a Pressant 1NT machine in the warehouse.
On the new line, NB fills seven different SKUs: the “Star” and “Gulder” brands in 0.66-litre bottles, “Maltina”, “Amstel Malta” and “Fayrouz” in 0.33-litre bottles, and “Legend Stout” in 0.33-litre and 0.66-litre bottles. “We try to run each line with as few types as possible, so as to minimise change-over times. Ultimately, though, each line has to handle at least two SKUs”, says Celestine Igbukolo. The Heineken brand is not produced in this facility, but bottled only in Lagos and Ama.
“Win with Nigeria”
“The target in the bottling operation is an Operational Performance Indicator (OPI), the actual output reaching the warehouse, of 80 per cent, which we aim to achieve by the end of 2013. The line itself is required to run at an efficiency of 90 to 95 per cent”, is how Celestine Igbukolo quantifies the expectations.
Back in 2002 NB had signed a service level agreement with Krones, specifying the maintenance intervals between visits by Krones’ service technicians, which are being gradually extended to match the growing capabilities being acquired by NB’s own staff. “This is working very well”, says Celestine Igbukolo. “But if we don't have the right spares to hand, then the availability of the line itself is no longer assured. That’s why we’ve also listed all those spares in a vendor-managed inventory, which the LCS Center in Lagos is keeping in stock for us. Overall, Krones’ presence in Nigeria with the LCS Center is extremely important for our investment decisions.”
The core message of NB’s corporate social responsibility statement is “Win with Nigeria”. This relates to the creation and securing of jobs involving Nigeria’s multifaceted ancillary supplier industry, starting with label vendors, and advertising agencies, all the way through to the drivers of the beer trucks, and to the company’s social commitment to education, environmental protection or talent fostering. And NB itself aims to win further successes in Nigeria. At the last AGM in May 2012, NB’s Chairman Chief Kola B. Jamodu told the shareholders: “You can rest assured that our company is well positioned for retaining its leadership of the beer market, and maximising its return on investment.”