Tabitha Karanja: The Beer Titan Who Took on Giants

By Lynnet Okumu / Published October 19, 2021 | 12:27 pm




KEY POINTS

Tabitha Karanja's story is one of a woman who started small but dreamed big. Her determination and perseverance has seen her emerge as one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in Kenya


Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Mukami Muigai Karanja is a Kenyan businesswoman, entrepreneur, and industrialist. She is the founder and current Chief Executive Officer of Keroche Breweries, Kenya’s second largest brewery.

She is one of the country’s leading entrepreneurs, a remarkable trailblazer, and an exemplary woman who’s made good against all the odds.

Age, Education and Career Background

Tabitha Karanja is 57 years old as of the year 2021. She was born in Kenton Kijabe, Nakuru County in a family of 10 children.

Being the first-born child, she wanted to achieve at an early age. Tabitha attended the Bahati Girls Secondary School, one of the best schools in the country, and its current performance still inspires her today.

There is still a sense of pride in her on the occasion when the national school exam results are announced each year.

Tabitha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Nairobi. After completing her education, she worked in the Ministry of Tourism as an Accounting Clerk for two years.

Personal Life

After her education, she met and married her husband Joseph Karanja, who owned a successful hardware store in Naivasha town.

In 1997, the couple closed the hardware store and went into the wine-making business.

They have four children; James Karanja (serves as the Chairman of Keroche Breweries Limited), Anerlisa Muigai, Edward Muigai, and the late Tecra Muigai.

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Tabitha’s Entrepreneurial Journey and Breakthrough in Business

Tabitha Karanja resigned early in her career because she had always wanted to be a woman in business.

One of her earliest business experiences was when she and her husband were originally running a hardware shop; supplying to other local companies. But the desire to manufacture products was where her heart lay.

In 1997, Tabitha’s research into Kenya’s drinks market showed a gap in the local beer industry – specifically to service the lower consumer end of the market in particular.

Being a neglected market segment meant that people resorted to drinking whatever they found in their local villages, so she set out to make an affordable, high-quality, international standard drink that was moderate in alcohol.

It was with this easy-to-drink, affordable, and great-tasting beer that she started to penetrate this market initially.

It started with five employees and capital drawn from the hardware shop they owned and was called Keroche Industries Limited then.

The approach was to develop a beer that was mixed for moderate drinking, made naturally and without sugar. The product moved well and she worked with the Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to ensure the quality was to an international standard.

In 2007, taxes on locally made wine forced the company to diversify from fortified wines as well. It started manufacturing ready-to-drink vodka.

A year later, the company ventured into brewing beer, a section of the market then dominated by the Diageo owned East African Breweries Limited.

During this period, its products mainstreamed from low income to generally accepted alcoholic beverages across the Kenyan Market and became a serious player in the beer market.

Keroche Breweries was started in the capital of Kes. 500,000 (= USD 5,000). As of 2020, it has grown to have a brewing facility valued at Sh8.5 billion with an Sh1 billion facility to produce wines and spirits.

The brewing facility was part of a 2015, Kes. 10 billion (USD 100 million) investment, where Keroche Breweries increased its capacity tenfold to produce 600,000 bottles a day from a previous capacity of 60,000 bottles a day.

Tabitha Karanja, the founder and managing director of Keroche Breweries Ltd, has single-handedly run the company since its inception as a small brewery.

She has survived tough competition from East African Breweries and launched more brands after investing in Ksh. 100 million ($1.2 million) in boosting production capacity.

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She is now seeking expansion in East and Central Africa and her dream is to cover the whole of Africa.

Tabitha’s contribution to Women Empowerment

Tabitha chose to venture where none before her had dared. She took on an 87-year-old business monopoly and entered an industry with a deeply entrenched male gender stereotype. She broke the mold to become Kenya’s first home-grown beer and alcoholic drink manufacturer.

Her inspirational story is one of a woman who started small in business but dreamed big. Because of her determination and perseverance, she has emerged as one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in Kenya; and a true force to be reckoned with within the beer brewing industry in Africa.

In 2010, she was honored by President Mwai Kibaki with a Moran of Burning the Spear (MBS) award for her great contribution to liberalizing Kenya’s alcohol market.

Tabitha says that startups are common in Kenya, but few survive the harsh business environment. She adds that it takes too long to start a business in Kenya, giving international competitors an advantage in the marketplace.

As a successful entrepreneur in a typically male-dominated world, Karanja says the lack of female executives in her country and beyond is rooted in the way girls are often brought up.

Mrs. Karanja stresses that for a young girl who only thinks of getting married, gets children, and takes care of her husband, they are doomed.

Our culture can change that — ‘Yes, you’ll get married, get your children, but also there is something else that you need to do: you need to develop your country in one way or the other.

In 2014, Tabitha started the Keroche Foundation also known as the 100 Lionesses, which was partly to give back to society. The Foundation gives a helping hand to both upcoming and established female entrepreneurs who have the desire to grow and expand their businesses.

Through the aptly named ‘Hand-Up Initiative,’ Tabitha shares her powerful experiences and lessons to a select group of young female entrepreneurs through an intensive nine-month mentorship and training program.

She is a wonderful role model to these young business builders. Her resilience in the face of enormous odds, her tenacity, and sharp business sense has won her numerous accolades, top among them the 2016 Global Inspirational Women Leadership Award.

The award was presented by the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (CELD), an organization that has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC).

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There is also the National Organisation of Black-Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) from the United States, which honored her during the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS) in Dubai, UAE – and numerous other awards over the years.

Although Keroche has its fair share of challenges, there is no doubt that Tabitha Karanja is a figure of truly historic consequence and profound impact. An Iron Lady indeed.







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