According to information published by the Irish Embassy of Lusaka 61,300 cases of Irish Whiskey were sold in the Zambian market in 2019 (the most recent numbers available). This means Zambia consumes on average 735,000 bottles of Irish Whiskey (well Jameson) per year and represents 10% of the total consumption of Irish Whiskey in Africa (8,592,000), Our consumption has increased from an estimated 1,500 annually in 2010. Based on the current retail price of around K400 per bottle this brings in an estimated K294,000,000 ($15 million) in revenue annually. This makes us the #1 Breakthrough Market in Africa according to the embassy. It is clear the average Zambian alcohol consumer has developed a taste for Irish Whiskey (myself included). But with an increase in alcohol consumption there is also a risk in the increased effects of alcoholism and increased substance abuse amongst minors. As prices continue to rise the average consumer can no longer afford genuine Whiskey and have opted for home brewed solutions. In this short piece I’ll try and look into the factors of our love of Irish Whiskey and assess the real impact of alcohol on the youth.
For the Love of Jameson
To many Zambians, Janeson is more than just a drink. The Irish whiskey brand was founded in 1780 and is one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the world. The company was started by John Jameson who was a lawyer at the time. Today the company produces nearly 8 million cases of whiskey annually and is estimated to be worth $2 billion by its Irish parent company. Recently the company has seen a 1% decrease in sales over the period of 2020 as a result of COVID 19 lockdowns. Zambia is estimated to be one of the most profitable markets for the company as we currently have one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption per capita in the world.
So why do Zambians love Jameson? Maybe it’s because Chipata is nicknamed Fort Jameson. Maybe because the bottle stands out. The real answer is impossible to figure out but it definitely has something to do with marketing. Recently the brand has taken notice of its popularity and has taken the initiative to increase investment in the country. Over the last few years the brand has hosted the Jameson Connects parties., created the Jameson Radio Show which you can find on Youtube and have tapped into the Zambian influencer circles for star studded adverts. The brand has built a loyal following amongst younger drinkers and maintains the loyalty of the older generations too.
Zambia and Alcoholism
Alcoholism has been one of the biggest issues currently facing our society. According to a report by the RFI 76% of all Zambian men and 33 % of all women consume more alcohol than the global average of 6.4 litres per person per year. According to our world data Lithuania currently holds the record for the highest alcohol consumption per person with 15 litres annually. The shutdown of the supply chain in 2020 resulted in an increase in demand for home brewed alcohol alternatives such as the notorious Tujilijili. The drink consists of 90% ethanol and is heavily linked to an increase in cases of mental health illness amongst consumers. It is estimated 80% of cases of deteriorating mental health in the country are linked to substance abuse but at a cost of K15 per sachet it is more affordable. In 2018 the government took the step to ban Tujijili and in 2019 the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) launched attempts to limit the smuggling of ethanol into the country.
According to a 2019 study alcoholism is also on the rise amongst children. The study claims that amongst school children from grades 8 – 11 (based on a group of 300 students) 43% of the students were found to have consumed alcohol. With the mandatory COVID lockdown there was a rise in child pregnancies (an estimated 22,000 child pregnancies in 2020) and increased participation in the consumption of alcohol among minors. Groups such as the Zambia Youths against Alcohol abuse are looking to change this narrative by advocating against big alcohol companies. In South Africa the government frequently used lockdowns to impose alcohol restrictions to mitigate the contributing impact alcohol abuse has on issues like domestic abuse, sexual abuse and consumption amongst minors.
It is outstanding what Jameson has managed to produce in the country and it is clear the brand holds Zambia in high regard. With the increase in the cost of alcohol more Zambians are consuming dangerously high concentrates of ethanol which could have catastrophic effects on mental health in the country and is heavily impacting the productivity of the youth in the country. In 2018 the government introduced mentorship programs to reduce the impact of alcoholism but till today the program has not proven effective. We can only hope with the ever increasing demand in our region we can