SABMiller is focusing on local premium beers in Africa and believes that there is an untapped US$3.7bn of sales across nine of its key markets on the continent.

According to SABMiller's own research, it could unlock a collective $3.7bn "value pool" in retail beer sales across the nine countries, if it can persuade consumers there to ditch homebrews, homemade wines and cheap spirits. The Peroni brewer will focus on broadening its portfolio in the countries, which include Tanzania, Uganda, Angola and Ghana.

"Our marketing teams spent two months walking the streets of Africa, to size up the opportunity in beer," SABMiller's marketing director for Africa, Dave Carruthers, told analysts at an investor conference hosted by the company this week. 

Africa's beer market increasingly resembles a battleground as multinational brewers such as SABMiller, Heineken and Diageo vye to satisfy growing consumer demand. Diageo's Paul Walsh has described Africa as "a jewel", while Heineken has said that Africa is "the cornerstone" of its business.

SABMiller is seeking to set the pace with a policy of introducing local premium brands across Africa. According to Carruthers, the strategy is to "stretch" the portfolio in order to get consumers into beer and then help them move up the category.

The brewer has drawn up a three-tier pyramid for its business in the region. At the bottom are 'regional premium' beers, led by the Castle lager brand; in the middle comes an emerging tier of 'local premium' beers, such as Nile Gold; while the top tier is led by the company's flagship international brands, such as Grolsch and Peroni Nastro Azzurro.

Over the past three years, average annual volume sales growth on the local premium beers has been 38%, with regional premiums up 25% on the same basis, SABMiller said.