A revolution is currently brewing in South Africa – and it’s being spearheaded by Gladys Mawoneke. It comes in the form of BREVA: A malt-based drink, 0.0% alcohol, sophisticated, and stylish – basically, a "drink for those who don’t". Innovating in a sector that is already well-dominated, Gladys hasn’t let the industry’s "big dogs" hamper her spirits. She shares with Fast Company SA why she thinks the production of non-alcoholic drinks is the business of the future.
You started out in journalism and then got admitted as an attorney. How did your work in these fields help your business career?
I'm a journalist by nature so I always make an effort to understand everything. The discipline of law is quite broad and it’s the encouragement of critical thinking which prepared me for business. I use my legal training on a daily basis, as we draft our own contracts. Also, my ability to analyse the contracts I enter into is extremely helpful.
Where does the word BREVA come from?
It’s a play on the word "brave". The concept of bravery lies at the core of BREVA. Our symbol is of a blue crane, which echoes through African cultures as a signifier to those who are brave and bring peace to the village. We wanted our brand to reflect this.
What have been BREVA’s most defining moments?
Getting the product on the shelf. We’ve been in the market for four years, and now we are in Pick n’ Pay and some of the Spar outlets too. We are already in the Congo and Zimbabwe, and are now trying to penetrate international markets.
Have you had any pushback from big players in the beverage industry?
We like the challenge and it’s flattering if the big businesses see us as competition. We do get concerned if the big players use tactics in order to tackle us in the marketplace though. We believe that the market is big enough for everyone. However, we are targeting a very specific market and some of the issues we face are related to fridge space. That is always where the big guys can affect us because they're based in outlets. They deny anyone the use of those fridges and some outlets can only afford one fridge. So with only one fridge, no one else is allowed to use it which automatically means everyone else is excluded from that outlet.
How is your drink different from other non-alcoholic drink brands?
The non-alcoholic segment is quite broad: If you look at it, even coke is a non-alcoholic product. Our point of difference is the quality and packaging. We package BREVA in a way that targets millennials and those who are looking for an alternative to alcohol. We are providing them with that option.
We believe that we are going to grow the segment, though other brands are coming on board such as Heineken. The segment grows as more and more people choose not to drink alcohol. We want to believe that in South Africa we have established the only 0.0% drink that is not related to alcohol at all. The big alcohol companies came into this market because of the shutdown that is happening in the advertising of alcoholic products.
Would you call this “fake" beer? Or would you say it stands on its own as a product?
There is no alcohol, it is a 0.0 product. It has no relevance to beer. We would not destroy our brand by calling our product "fake" anything, it is what it is: It's a malt drink that is an alternative to alcohol.
Do you have a mantra that’s buoyed you from venture to venture?
My mantra is "What's the worst that can happen?" If you try something and it fails, you’re in the exact same position you were before you tried. If you succeed, you’re in a different place.
What are BREVA’s plans for the future?
Our mission is to be known as the African brand that is the biggest and best provider of non-alcoholic 0.0% beverages. Although, when I first developed BREVA, it was for commercial reasons and this isn’t enough. Now, it’s about the contribution we're making to society. The BREVA foundation is now associated with the Keep A Girl Child In School initiative. There are so many girls around the world, and particularly in Africa, who do not go to school and one of the main reasons is because of the lack of sanitary towels. They cannot afford or have no access to them. R0.07 of every bottle of BREVA sold goes towards this initiative. This way, we can hopefully make a difference.