Buzeki Dairies is a little known milk processor in the Kenyan market. But its brand, Molo Milk, is increasingly finding its way into many Kenyan homes in the wake of a fresh price and publicity wars in the industry.
Last week, Buzeki Dairies’ TV commercial dubbed “Usiseme Maziwa, Sema Ng’ombe” (“Don’t say milk, say cow,”) was voted as the most effective advert in the Kenyan market, in a survey done by Ipsos Synovate, because “many people could recall it.”
The ad, which uses popular local actors, encourages more Kenyans to drink milk.
Kenya’s milk processors hope some of Buzeki’s good fortunes rub off them.
“We are trying to make milk trendy especially among the youth who prefer something with sugar. The message is milk is cool,” said Kiprop Bundotich, the proprietor of Buzeki Dairies.
In the past few weeks, Kenya’s milk processors have joined hands to roll out a campaign encouraging more Kenyans to drink milk in a publicity push fashioned around the lines of the famous “Got Milk?” campaign in the US, which featured all kinds of celebrities from Heidi Klum, Rihanna and Venus and Serena Williams to fictional characters like Superman and Wolverine sporting a milk moustache.
The selling proposition is that milk offers more nutrients, helps to rehydrate the body and keeps the skin smooth and muscles well-toned.
It is a rare occurrence for industry players in the country to sing from the same hymn book, unless they are coming under attack... like now.
The choice of beverages has increased; there are fruit juices, bottled water and more alcohol brands in the market. The informal milk sector has remained vibrant, accounting for 80 per cent of all milk processed in the country.
There is also a 16 per cent Value Added Tax on milk processing equipment proposed in this year’s budget speech.
“The introduction of VAT will destroy the milk industry. I will be paying in excess of Ksh20 million ($253,333) more on the UHT equipment, and hawking will become prevalent,” said Mr Bundotich.
Hawking is one of the biggest threats to processors.
With the industry under threat, the processors have had to come together to fend off competition. But even amid the solidarity, each player knows they have to build their own defenses.
“The second step of the campaign will be encouraging more Kenyans to take processed milk. But every processor will be left to compete on their own,” said New Kenya Co-operative Creameries managing director Kipkirui Lang’at.
The state-owned firm controls the largest market share at 30 per cent. The firm plans to add another drier to its existing three, which allows the production of powdered milk.
Brookside Dairy — associated with the Kenyatta Family — has set aside Ksh1.6 billion ($19 million) to set up a drying facility, expected to be operational by the end of this year. Other processors are gearing up for expansion, betting that the milk industry will become more vibrant.
“We are investing in a UHT plant that should roll out its first packets by the end of this year,” said Mr Bundotich.
The ultra-heat-treatment (UHT) plant will cost Ksh133 million ($1.5 million), Mr Bundotich said without giving details on how the company raised the cash. UHT milk is sterilised by heating it at very temperatures to increase its shelf life.
However, he said, bank loans remained “very expensive” as a financing option.
Private equity investment in processors also remains low because there are only a few agriculture-focused funds, Joel Ssemukaaya, an associate at, Burbidge Capital, said.
“Perhaps these dairy plants are in very early stages and or their organisational structures are not yet well developed for agriculture-focused PE firms to invest in,” he said.
Kenya has the biggest milk market in the region with Kenyans consuming almost three times as much milk per capita as other East Africans — on average, 139 of a Kenyan’s daily calories come from milk, contrasted with a regional average of just 50 kcal.
Burundians get the lowest daily calories, at just 6 kcal per day. The figure is 25 kcal in Rwanda, 38 kcal in Tanzania and 42 kcal in Uganda.
Potential to backfire
But the drive to have more East Africans drink milk could backfire badly: Predominantly agricultural societies in East Africa have a high level of lactose intolerance — up to 90 per cent, according to a study published in research journal Nature Genetics.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest milk because they lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose, the principal sugar in milk.
Such people experience symptoms like indigestion, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as aggravating conditions like eczema when they take milk.
“Lactose intolerance is fairly common,” says Kepha Nyanumba, a nutritionist in Nairobi. “Although milk is a good source of calcium, it’s not mandatory to consume milk to get calcium; the body is able to manufacture its own calcium by combining cholesterol and vitamin D in the presence of sunlight.”
Lactase persistence is common in pastoralist communities. A study by Dr Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland sampled 43 ethnic groups from Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan; the frequency of lactase persistence was highest among the Beja pastoralist population from Sudan (88 per cent) and lowest in the Sandawe hunter-gatherer population from Tanzania (26 per cent).
By Christine Mungai, Emmanuel Were and Peterson Thiong’o