Camelthorn still frothing
“The economy of Greece is in trouble but they are not closed, we are also in trouble yet we are still running. There is a misunderstanding somewhere out there,” said Jörg Finkeldey, the chief executive officer of Camelthorn Brewing during an interview with the Economist.
He said that although they produce world class beer strictly according to the traditional German and international brewing style, the consumer market in Namibia is not so big and that has affected them.
When the company was first established in August 2008, it used to brew five types of beer. Now it only brews three beers said Finkeldey, adding that it has diverted from the traditional method of selling beer only in bottles.
Finkeldey said the reason for this is because they are currently concentrating on consolidating their products and that reducing their beer range is only temporary.
“We have reduced our range and we do not sell bottled beer, we only sell tap beer,” he said.
Explaining his decision to stop distributing bottled beer he said bottling is relatively costly while selling from the tap is more sustainable as well as cost-effective for them and for the consumers.
One of the underlying reasons for the misconception that Camelthorn has stopped production, he identified, is a lack of good communication.
“We did not communicate well with our clients therefore we are now concentrating on regaining consumer confidence. We did not inform our clients beforehand that we will stop selling Camelthorn through local retailers and we want to correct that. Currently we mainly avail beer to pubs, restaurants, hotels and events” he said ,boasting that Camelthorn beer is now even available at clubs and some of the bigger shebeens in Katutura.
He said that this shift in strategy and target market has been rewarding as results are better than expected. Camelthorn has also made some inroads into the South African market with limited exports to selected markets. Demand for craft beer is higher and Camelthorn with its premium quality competes in a small niche market.
“Camelthorn exports about 35% of its beer to Cape Town. The craft beer market in Cape Town is well established as there are about five companies promoting our .craft beer.”
He confidently told the Economist that there is sufficient demand for alternative beer, not only Camelthorn but also Heineken, Amstel and others.
“There is this myth that foreign beer is better. We have cases of international conglomerates dumping cheap products in the regional market but this does not impact our performance. But we will never go anywhere, we need to produce because consumers like the local product provided the quality is good,” said Finkeldey.
He fingered distribution as one of their main concerns. This is not a problem unique to Camelthorn but affects all small local producers in equal measure.
“It is really challenging to get your product as a producer to the people because distribution companies are not prepared to provide their services at an affordable rate.”
A passionate Finkeldey said that the Ministry of Trade and Industry is doing a great job in supporting local brewers as they help promote their beer internationally. Camelthorn supply their beer to selected Namibian embassies.
But he still thinks government can do more by giving local producers greater advantage since they are local manufacturers employing people, keeping the money in the country and working towards Vision 2030.
He said that the current Protect the Craft Beer Fund initiative is a community-based project aimed at making cash readily available for its daily operations as they often have a lot of lead time.
“Although the campaign was just recently launched, there is positive feedback from consumers as people want to buy the beer and they are hoping to land annual brewing contracts with distributors in the American and European markets.”