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Kenyans Only Drink Sweet Wines – A Myth?

When you both get in, she usually calmly sits down and scans to level the area a little bit. When asked what she’s having, she utters…“Ukona Four Cousins? Robertsons? Ama sweet red yoyote?” – (Do you have 4 Cousins? Robertsons? or any other sweet wine?). We have lived with the folk tale of the ‘Sweet wine’ for quite a while now, making it the national standard when it comes to filling up the orders at your local wines and spirits. However, the modern wine bars, supermarkets and upcoming wine pros may know something others do not – taste palates may be changing.

Some may recall Kingfisher; days when a popular fruit wine with a history that dates back to 1982 was stocked everywhere in Kenyan bars and off trade stores (a product of Kenya Wine Agencies Ltd, KWAL). Back then, wines like these were mostly sweet with coupled with low price points. Upon product launch, Kingfisher retail price was Ksh 160 while you could pick up one of the popular Yatta tetra pak containers at a price range of Ksh 349 to 445 for the one litre. As for local stockists, in order to come up with the perfect wine list, one has to consider some factors such as market demand, countrywide availability, and the best quality wine that offers value for money. On a lighter note, we even came across a certain interesting keyword on Google search –‘Sweetest wine in Kenya’.

Changing times with a new taste

Looking at the wider global economy, many in the wine trade are now faced with fast-changing uncertain business environments and increased level of competition. Add onto that changing consumer tastes and preferences due to added exposure and you get a total paradigm shift in an industry that was once characterised for a particular consumer trend.

In a recent interview, we spoke to prominent wine importer Judy Ngene, Galina Kenya CEO, who pointed out that as much as the Kenyan market leans more towards the sweet wines (reds being more prevalent),as more education reaches the masses through wine tastings there is increased appreciation of dry wines. “In practice, as the palate matures, you are able to handle dry wines and love them more than the sweets”, Judy said. Experiential marketers of wine that offer wine tastings also seem to be popping up every now and again giving Kenyans a chance to explore new wines.

Another growing segment is sparkling and rose’ wines which have benefitted from a number of trends, including the proliferation of lower-cost and different styles, fun packaging and general consumer fad. In the grand scale of things, back in 2008 Kenya also became a contributor of diversified wines (dry and sweet) to the global markets thanks to the arrival of seasoned wine pro James Farquharson from South Africa marked the beginning of better times for the country. Mr. Farquharson with the help of local investors imported new rootstock and started a winery under the brand name Leleshwa wines.

An excerpt from New York Times depicting new Kenyan wines exported to the US (1996).

Wine meets tech

Increased penetration and easy access to reliable internet in the country has encouraged the growth of internet alcoholic drinks retailers, such as Jumia, Nairobi Drinks, MoBar, Dial-a-drink, Chupa Chap, Oaks & Corks and The Wine Shop Kenya , amongst others. Recent data tells us that online wine sales have continued to rise in Kenya as consumers gain ready access to a wider range of products whilst enjoying both the convenience and experimentation of different wines.

“We are encountering more orders online, with Kenyans saying that they get tired of drinking the same type of wines… most of the time, we recommend to them what we feel they will enjoy and they buy without asking,” said a shop attendant at the Liquor Library – Kiambu road.

An image of a Liqour Library, a wine shop located along Kiambu road.

If you liked this article, you may also like: Top Kenyan Sommeliers you should know

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