Business Maverick


Drinking out the box — South Africa’s favourite tipple is a sweet wine

Drinking out the box — South Africa’s favourite tipple is a sweet wine
(Photo: Unsplash / Vinicius Amano)

South Africa is a boozy nation: Nearly half of us consumed alcohol in the past month. And although South Africa is one of the world’s top wine-producing countries, 41% of SA drinkers prefer beer, not wine.

South Africa is among the world’s biggest consumers of alcohol. Statista data from 2019 suggest that the countries with the highest per capita consumption of alcohol include Czechia, Latvia, and the Republic of Moldova, but earlier data from the World Health Organization (2016) show that those in SA who drink, drink heavily. Tunisians are top of the pops, consuming the most alcohol per capita in the world, at 35 litres (drinkers only), with South Africa at a drinkers-only per capita consumption of 30 litres.

The latest Maps data, a nationally representative survey of more than 20,000 South Africans, available on Eighty20’s Data Portal, shows that about half of all South Africans drank some form of alcohol in the past month. Men are the biggest consumers, with 62% drinking alcohol weekly or monthly, compared with 36% of women.

In terms of the gender split by category, men consume 72% of the beer, 70% of the brandy, and 66% of the whisky drunk in SA.

About 58% of women favour Champagne/sparkling wine and flavoured alcoholic beverages, 51% favour bottled wine and 49% boxed wine.

In 2013, the top-selling beer was Castle Lager, followed by Castle Lite, Carling Black Label, Heineken and Hansa Pilsener. Ten years later, 2023 sees Carling at number one, other brands (which include a massive influx of small independent brands and craft beers) second, followed by Castle Lite, then Flying Fish and Heineken — bumping Castle Lager from the top five, as smaller brands gained a foothold in the beer sector. Nearly two million SA consumers drink Carling Black Label in any given week.

Andrew Fulton, the co-owner of Eighty20, said Flying Fish, which launched a decade ago, is now the third most popular beer brand, ahead of Amstel, Castle Lager and Budweiser — brands that spent significantly more in terms of advertising, according to the 2023 Liquor Industry Report produced by Ornico.

“Flying Fish is also the most over-indexed beer for women, second only to Black Label which enjoys a whopping 60% more consumption,” said Fulton.

The top five alcohol categories for SA men in 2023 are beer, gin, cider, liqueur (nearly half of which is Jägermeister) and boxed wine. A decade ago, the top five included whisky and brandy.

This year, for SA women the top five are the same as for men, except for flavoured alcoholic beverages replacing gin. A decade ago, the women’s top five included Champagne/sparkling wine and bottled wine. 

The flavoured alcohol category has grown significantly, as shown by the massive growth in brands like Flying Fish and Brutal Fruit, particularly among women, said the report.

Two-thirds of craft beer drinkers consume traditional beer (with Flying Fish and Amstel Radler in their top five choices), while only 2% of traditional beer drinkers consume craft beers, which is likely to be a reflection of the economy as the latter is a more expensive option.

Only 13% of South Africans who consume beer live in the Western Cape, but among those, 37% drink craft beer.

Happy box

The top alcohol brand is 4th Street wine, a sweet wine from Distell, which has 8% alcohol and sells for about R175 for five litres at Pick n Pay and R165 at Shoprite.

Savanna Dry is in second place, followed by Carling Black Label, Brutal Fruit and Gordon’s Gin. Gordon’s dominates the gin category, being favoured by 41% of all gin drinkers.

Large and in charge

Over the coming months, it will be interesting to see what impact Heineken’s investment in innovation and targeting a new consumer segment will have on the Maps data.

In March, Heineken finally received approval to buy Distell.

The Dutch brewer launched a new product, Silver, last month, which is brewed using an ice-cold lagering process at -1°C, allowing more proteins and rough-tasting tannins to be filtered out. The result is a fresh, crisp finish that’s easy to drink. The beer is less bitter, more accessible and lower in alcohol (4%, as opposed to the lager’s 5%) — targeting a younger, more health-conscious consumer who wants flavour with less alcohol.

Heineken called the innovation behind Silver “one of the most significant innovations over the past 150 years of the Heineken brand”, which is “set to captivate a younger audience that seek a beer that not only satisfies their taste buds but also aligns with their desire for moderation and style”. DM


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