While dining out with friends over the years, Edmund Nosegbe, president and CEO of Atlanta-based TransAtlantic Imports Inc., noticed that most restaurants featured a global menu of imported beers but excluded Africa.
The popularity of imports like Heineken and the trendy American microbrews made him think: Why not Star or Guider, two best sellers from his native Nigeria? “Americans are playing with different flavors from all over the world,” says Nosegbe. “I thought this would be a good time to bring a beverage on the market.”
It took him four years to convince Nigerian Breweries, one of the largest in the world, to export Star, Guider and Legend Stout, but perseverance has paid off. Following a successful market test in Savannah, Georgia, TransAtlantic unveiled the beers in Southern and mid-Atlantic regions last December. Over the next few years, Nosegbe plans to expand distribution throughout the U.S.
Most African beers that consumers will find are golden lagers, much like Corona. Unfortunately, they’re not as well known. “People are attracted to [imported] beers because they’ve traveled to the port of origin or feel some affinity towards it,” says Peter Reid, editor of Modern Brewery Age, an industry trade publication in Norwalk, Connecticut. Nosegbe believes his imports will be particularly appealing to black Americans who wish to expand their knowledge of African products, as well as immigrants who want to continue enjoying products from their native countries.
According to Nosegbe, Star has been Africa’s No. 1 selling beer for 50 years. It’s a light, premium-quality lager with a smooth finish that comes from sorghum, and can be compared to Molson Ice. Thanks to his marketing savvy, Star is now the house beer at Sylvia’s in Atlanta, a branch of the popular New York-based soul-food restaurant. Guider is more of a pilsner-style beer that’s crisp and full bodied with a distinctive bitter hop flavor similar to Killian’s Irish Red. Both beers complement spicy, tomato-based foods, as well as Asian, Cajun, Creole and, of course, African cuisines.
Legend Extra Stout is what Nosegbe describes as a truly African product. Similar to Ireland’s Guiness Stout, it has a rich mahogany color and a creamy caramel head and is very popular in Africa.
TransAtlantic is not the only importer offering Americans a taste of Africa. The Kingston, Massachusetts-based St. Killian Importing Co. has just reintroduced Tusker Premium Lager to the market. A product of Kenya, Tusker is made with bima equatorial barley and the pure waters of the country’s Mizuma Springs.
The fact remains, however, that African brews represent a drop in the proverbial beer barrel. “Distribution, to a certain extent, may depend on the support it gets in the African American community,” charges Reid. “The market is very competitive.’ You just have to find a niche, build a brand and see what happens.”
So far, the popularity of Star, Guider and Legend Extra Stout has exceeded Nosegbe’s expectations. “We believe the African continent is the next frontier for discovery, especially in foods and beverages,” he says.
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