The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
REBOUNDING Bulawayo Municipal Commercial Undertaking (BMCU)’s beverages manufacturing unit, Ingwebu Breweries will re-introduce its non-alcoholic sorghum drink, Royal Mahewu next month as it seeks to consolidate its business through creation of additional revenue streams.
In an interview with Sunday News Business last Thursday after donating $5 000 to an Amhlophe High School pupil, Pascar Sibanda (19) of Bulawayo who was recently awarded a Presidential Scholarship to study at Saint Petersburg State University of Telecommunications in Russia, Ingwebu Breweries managing director Mr Dumisani Mhlanga said the company made delivery of its mahewu manufacturing plant, which had undergone major re-construction in South Africa three weeks ago and was doing trial runs with plans to re-introduce the product into the market in September.
“The supplier who sold us this plant never gave us back-up spares and when it gave us challenges a decision was taken to take it back to the supplier. The supplier stripped the machine into pieces and reconstructed it. Since it’s a South African company in terms of servicing and maintaining the machine an arrangement is already in place for them to come and service the machine and supply back-up spare parts. So we are good to go,” he said.
The plant started running last week and the company is in the process of building up stocks before re-introducing the mahewu product into the market before the end of September. The company started producing mahewu in February 2015 after investing more than US$500 000 as a way of raising fresh income after its main source — the sorghum beer — took a battering from poor marketing, distribution and competition from other brands.
However, in 2017 the plant started experiencing a myriad of faults resulting in the company abruptly stopping the production of mahewu. Mr Mhlanga said the re-introduction of mahewu was part of the company’s diversification strategy aimed at avoiding over-reliance on their sorghum beer.
“We don’t want to rely entirely on our Calabash and mahewu comes in as another revenue stream and hopefully this product can hit the market and do well. It would be good to have several streams of revenue largely due to our turbulent economic conditions and we are looking at opportunities of diversifying into other products as soon as possible but for now we are really focusing on two products that’s our opaque beer and mahewu,” he said.
Ingwebu Breweries was also forced to stop production of its one-litre Shake It brand in 2016 owing to lack of foreign currency to procure its packaging material.
“Our plan is to have Shake It back before end of September because there is a market for that product. Unfortunately when the Government decided to do away with multiple currency, before that time we were still collecting (the South African) Rand and if we were still collecting the Rand we would have been able to stick with our plans but unfortunately that has been a setback because we get that packaging material from Zambia and it requires forex,” said Mr Mhlanga.
He however, was optimistic that Shake It would bounce back into the market soon after the company managed to pay its outstanding debt of R2 million rand it owed its packaging material supplier.
“The good thing is that we are getting a bit of money from the banks, we owed almost R2 million to our Zambian suppliers and we have been able to clear around largely due to the turnaround of the company, we have been able to get some bit of foreign currency. We no longer owe Nampak,” said Mr Mhlanga.
He said the company has set aside plans to build its foreign currency coffers to enable it to import the Shake It packaging material from Zambia.
“As we get money from the bank what we want to do is to start paying for packaging so that when we start running we don’t operate in fits and starts. We will need to build stocks and that will depend on the availability of foreign currency and what we are going to get from the banks. So whatever we will get from banks we will pay Nampak and build stock of three months or so then we are going to bring it back and hopefully we can run on a sustainable manner. It’s a key product for us, it moves quite some good volumes and there are plans to bring it,” said Mr Mhlanga.
The firm currently markets its sorghum brew through the Calabash brand with the product being sold in two-litre and one-and-a-half litre polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers.
Mr Mhlanga said the company, which successfully managed to turn around its fortunes this year was considering to carry out a number of Corporate Social Responsibility programmes as part of its efforts to plough back to the communities it operates within.
“As Ingwebu we will take part in social responsibility programmes . . . going into next year we are going to have a clear plan for social responsibility. For the better part of this year we will respond as and when we get requests or we see an opportunity to go and support while at the same time obviously we will be showcasing our products,” he said.
Two weeks ago the company sponsored a War Veterans golf tournament held at Harry Allen Golf Club to the tune of $10 000.
Ingwebu Breweries has close to a decade been reeling under massive losses but since the end of last year the firm has been on a remarkable turnaround. Since December last year it has been realising profits with a profit of $1,1 million being recorded for the month of May. Prior to its latest turnaround, the local authority was contemplating privatising the unit owing to persistence losses.