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Champion Beer- The Story Of A Rising Beverage

By Ekemini Simon


You would hardly visit a bar in Akwa Ibom State and not find the Champion Lager beer. Many beer consumers when asked by waiters and waitresses the brand they prefer, now opt for the “ State beer”. Just as water is sort after when scorched by a blazing sun during dry season, chilled Champion Lager beer is now in high demand at taverns and ceremonies. Its unique flavour, enriched taste and sassy bottle make drinking it quite a delight.
However, years back, the Champion Lager beer otherwise christened “State beer “ by the locals was not consistent in the market to serve as a delight for consumers. The inconsistency many opine may not have been unconnected to its fluctuating management history. In fact, its history and survival is plagued with capricious experiences. Let us examine the history of this popular beverage.
A Ride Into History
Incorporated as South East Breweries Ltd in 1974 under the administration of the Military Governor of South Eastern State, Udoakaha Jacob Esuene, the breweries changed to Cross Rivers Breweries Ltd and later to Champion Breweries Ltd on the 1st of September 1992. Thereafter, it had problems and went moribund. Successive administration did little to inject breathe into the State owned breweries. Its consumers were left with a Hobson’s Choice but opt for other brand of beer while awaiting her resurrection.
Interestingly, when the administration of Obong Victor Attah came to birth, resuscitating Champion Breweries PLC became a matter he prized. Out of the cold limbo for many years, he probably knew his people loved the brand dearly and have been denied of its slight white head of foam and the delicious bitter taste for so long. Thus, barely two years into his tenure, specifically in 2001, he faced the issue squarely. First, he injected capital into the firm. Thereafter, he took the company out of the apron strings of the State government by privatizing it. According to the Managing Director of Champion Breweries PLC, Patrick Ejidoh, that was the masterstroke as investors became attracted to the company.
He notes that the privatization made Consolidated Breweries, then a subsidiary of Heineken to invest in the company and also acquire shares. Earlier, Sona Breweries had acquired the company. All external debts of the company became liquidated and that paved the way for the survival of Champion Breweries PLC.
That singular act, the MD who says he has worked in the Nigerian Breweries for over 30 years points out was the prodigy which ensured that lovers of Champion Lager beer had their darling brand once again at their reach. But that was not the climax. In January 2014, Raysun Nigeria Ltd, 100 per cent owned by Heineken, the world renowned beer brand bought majority shares of the company. According to the MD of Champion Breweries, the equity shareholding of Champion Breweries stands at Raysun Nigeria Ltd – 60.7 per cent, Asset Management- 12.3 per cent, Akwa Ibom State Government- 10 per cent and Public 17 per cent. Since Heineken took major ownership of the brand, the firm has experienced stability. But what strides have been recorded thus far?
Strides under stability
The Human Resource and Development Manager, Nsikakabasi Etuk notes that Champion Breweries PLC now have in their portfolio, Champion Lager of 60 cl and Cham Malta of 33 Cl. Additionally, Champion Breweries do not only restrict themselves to their product. The Human Resource and Development Manager reveals that they are also on contract to produce Amstel Malta 33 cl and Legend 60 cl. Did you really know this fact? You possibly did not. So, henceforth, when you consume the mentioned products, just know that you are probably enjoying beverages produced within your State. Nevertheless, what really makes Champion beer unique?
Secret Behind Champion’s uniqueness
The production Manager, Mike Evbuomwan reveals that what makes Champion stand out with the quality of beer it is known for is because they have ensured that the brewing is done according to Heineken standard coupled with the fact that for their fermentation process, they have employed a new technology they call, Turbo fermentation.
What actually is involved in this process, you may wonder. The Production Manager explains “ Usually, what happens is that we use sorghum for the production of our Champion beer at 70 per cent, barley malt at about 30 per cent.
“Right from the raw material down to the finished product, we do more than 120 tests called in-process tests. Then after the end product, we also do finished product analysis to make sure that the product conforms to the standard we have set for ourselves.”
What is more, the production manager notes that the beauty about their operation is that Champion Breweries has support from Heineken right from the start down to finished product hence the reason they send their products every two months for analysis to see if standard is met.
Evbuomwan further points out that another factor behind the Champion quality is the quality of water they use for production. He says that since water constitutes about 95 per cent content of beer, they ensure the quality of the water is right. Buttressing his point, he notes “ We have three boreholes and the water isn’t easily contaminated compared to water from the river. Water is readily available here in Akwa Ibom; in just 100 metres, you get water and then it is treated to make sure that the quality is of international standard”. But since humans are fallible, can the effort by staff alone ensure quality beer?
The Engineering Manager, Solomon Ndimkaoha adds that their operation is systems automated in order to guarantee consistency and reliability. He says despite system operation, staff are stationed at various processing points to supervise the operations of the machines.
To elucidate his point further, he explains that their utilities installation is quite new and none of their key equipment (boilers, compressors and generators) is older than seven years of installation. Ndimkaoha adds “ The controls of our production facilities in recent times have been upgraded to Programmable Logic Controllers, an automated systems that guarantee quality consistency and process reliability.
In furtherance of the strict processes the beer passes through, the Regulatory and System Manager of the company, Samuel Olushola notes that the two major food regulators in the country: Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) have been partnering with them and as a result, the company is food safety certified beyond Nigerian standards down to international standards.
He adds “ We are HACCP ( Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Point ) certified on ISO ( International Standard Organization) on Food Safety Management System. It is a basic requirement. This shows that products that come out of this organization are safe for consumption and can go outside the country “. Olushola further reveals that already in 2019, the company has won twice the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme, MANCAP award from SON.
What benefit then do the company derive from the quality they pursue? The Chairman, Board of Directors, Champion Breweries PLC, Dr Elijah Akpan reveals that in profit making, since 2016, the company has witnessed steady rise. He mentions that in 2016, Champion Breweries PLC declared a profit of N500 million naira and N467 million in 2017. Akpan points out that these announced profits have awoken the interest of the investors.
Nevertheless, it is one thing to have quality drink content, but it is another necessity for the product to be appealing so as to break even in the market.
What has Champion done in this regard? The Managing Director, Patrick Ejidoh offers insight to the fact that the brand had first assessed themselves and acknowledged the fact that their bottle was not attractive enough.
He notes that to salvage the situation, they took a move to producing the most elegant and exquisite bottle for Champion lager beer that will rival any in the market. Ejidoh says that to give life to their dream, they invested a whooping N800 million to get a new bottle that befit the status of premium quality beer and now they are delighted to have a bottle he describes as sassy, sexy sleek and consistent.
The result? The Head, Sales and Marketing, Anthony Osagwe says “ I can tell you without hesitation that the market has accepted the new bottle. We unveiled this bottle 20th June 2018 and by the end of September 2018, we had already done 132 per cent of the volume done full year of 2017”. The Managing Director notes that the accelerated growth has not stopped as they have recorded 60 per cent growth in the market as a result of the introduction of the new bottle. “ We can now stand shoulder to shoulder with competitors who are using some proprietary bottles,” he boasts.
The Future of Champion
The Managing Director of the Company says that the next focus of Champion is to grow from current 40 per cent of total capacity they currently run into full capacity. He mentions that the reason behind the 40 per cent capacity stems from the challenge of poor electricity available for consumption. He notes that before now, the breweries had been running on diesel generating plant which he mentions gulped between 10 to 15 thousand litres of diesel daily depending on the production run and consequently drain from the firm’s coffer close to N800 million yearly.
Ejidoh however notes that the challenge will become a thing of the past since they are have recently commissioned for usage Compressed Natural Gas, CNG power generators. This he said will be very cost effective as they hope to save the company about N500 million yearly.
When operation goes beyond the 40 per cent capacity, will Champion continue to restrict its brand within the State and the fringes of few neighbouring States? The Managing Director replies in the negative. He notes “ Our aspiration is to be world class, spreading out to the entire South-South, South-East and very soon Nigeria. We have super brand and we are very ready for it “.
But the desire of the management is not enough. What is the aspiration of the public and Akwa Ibom State Government who jointly hold the second highest share in the Company?
Expectations from the Public/ Akwa Ibom State Government
Since many alcohol beverages also come in can and such better preferred in public events, the public have been clamouring for the brand to also be produced in can. A key distributor of the product, Edem Akpan who says he has been a bulk breaker of Champion Breweries PLC for the past seven years, notes that his customers often express desire to have the product in cans. He suggests that if that is done, the brand will fully have an edge over other brands.
Acknowledging this need, the Chairman, Board of Directors, Champion Breweries PLC, Dr Elijah Akpan says that they are aware that customers are desiring for the beer to come in can. He notes that besides the customers being in need of it, the company is desirous to export the product hence the need for the product to also be produced in cans.
Akpan who serves as Chairman of Champion Breweries courtesy of his position as the Executive Chairman, Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation ( AKICORP) a corporation saddled with the responsibility to oversee all companies in which Akwa Ibom State Government has equity adds “ As a company, we have a strategy on how to come up with Champion beer and Champ Malt in cans. Typical canning lines will cost nothing less than 50 to 100 million US dollars to install and we are trying to contract it out with the assistance of Nigerian Breweries PLC. Even though we make 10 kobo per can, I really don’t care. We will have it in can. “ But is the management ready for this move? “ It is in the front burner”, the Managing Director replies.

With the strides recorded so far recorded, Akpan points out that the Akwa Ibom State Government yearns for more feat. He says the State expects to have more of her indigenes in the firm, hence the reason the company has recruited some indigenes and sent them to Nigerian Breweries Training School for training. The Board Chairman explains that with the development, they will have indigenous staff who will contribute towards improved brewing skills and aid in enhancing overall operations of the company. Yet, with the strides so far grasped, where does the government of Akwa Ibom State hope to see Champion breweries in the near future?
The Chairman of the Company’s Board notes that it is the vision of the State Government to see Champion Lager Beer in every market worldwide. He notes that although the company is already a public liability company, it is their hope to expand to a point that other major players come to Champion for bigger mergers, to become a major player in the world market too.
He adds “ Our goal is to pay investors and shareholders’ dividends. If we can pay dividends to our shareholders, that essentially can make us stand solidly; increase the prices of shares in the open market and make Champions PLC almost number one”.

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