By Oliver Kazunga
Ingwebu Breweries has scaled-down operations to 50 percent due to Covid-19 pandemic that has forced the Government to ban bottle stores from operating as part of measures to contain the disease.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures, Ingwebu was operating at above 90 percent.
Speaking by telephone yesterday, Ingwebu Breweries managing director Mr Dumisani Mhlanga said his organisation’s sales had gone down due to the closure of bottle stores and beerhalls, the major customers of their product.
“It’s a tough period that we are in because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are operating at between 50 and 55 percent from about 90 percent.
“Remember, we supply a lot of bottle stores and most of them are not allowed to sell right now.
“So, as it is, we are only supplying to a few selected outlets such as supermarkets and they don’t take a lot of volumes,” he said.
The downsizing of operations, Mr Mhlanga said also entails that some of the workforce would be redundant in order to keep the business going.
“The unfortunate thing obviously is that when you start operating at 50 percent, you can’t keep the same number of workforce that you had before.
“It means that those people that you had on contract basis and so forth, will become redundant.
“It’s not an easy decision to take, but also for the business to survive, you can’t keep the same number of workforce that you had before scaling down operations.”
Mr Mhlanga could not be drawn into revealing the number of workers that have been or would be affected as a result of the downsizing of operations.
On projects that Ingwebu intends to undertake, he said:
“If this thing (Covid-19) continues, it will not stop our projects that we have lined up. But what it means is that, it is now going to take us long to implement the projects that we had planned to implement.”
As part of a turnaround strategy, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has privatised Ingwebu Breweries, which previously faced viability concerns due to falling demand and high cost of operating the antiquated machinery.
The implementation of the turnaround programme has seen Ingwebu emerging from the woods.
Part of the turnaround programme included franchising out Ingwebu beerhalls dotted across the western areas of the city to businesspeople interested in running the outlets.
The franchising out of the beerhalls entailed that Ingwebu Breweries stuck to core business of manufacturing and distributing traditional beer instead of retailing.
The closure of the franchised beer halls due to Covid-19, Mr Mhlanga said, has seen the brewery was losing out a million litres of sales per month.
“When they (franchised beer halls) are not operating, we’re losing about a million of sales a month that we were selling through those beer outlets.
“We are hoping that this Covid-19 comes to pass so that we get back to our lives.
“The problem that is there if those beerhalls stay for too long without working, some of the critical parts would become rusty or will stop functioning well, which means additional cost through maintenance,” he said.
Ingwebu Breweries was established in 1946 as a department of BCC and in 1996, council created a wholly-owned business entity called Bulawayo Municipal Commercial Undertaking. The Chronicle