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Tabitha Karanja and the rise of Keroche Breweries

Keroche Breweries Ltd managing director Tabitha Karanja is one of the most remarkable if unyielding businesswomen the country has produced to date. She is ironically set to share State honours with Jeremiah Kireini, a man who chaired East African Breweries for years and in the business rivalry — someone she would not be keen to share anything with.

She went ahead with the brewing giant to position Summit beer as a top brand in the market.

The 47-year-old mother of three – two girls and a boy – began working at the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant librarian between 1986 to 1993 before venturing into the high-margin but restrictive business.

She joined her husband’s alcohol trade in Naivasha. Mr Joseph Karanja had just converted his small hardware shop into a small brewery.

In 1997, the small brewery which was synonymous with the Keroche and Viena fortified wines was formally recognised as Keroche distillery. It later shifted to a piece of land near Naivasha where it commenced brewing.

As the firm grew and the ate market share of seasoned monopolies, Mrs Karanja was exposed to all manner of pressure from government and commercial forces.

But using commercial loans from Barclays, she has managed to expand her capacity despite the resistance. “We are now in the process of construction to add our capacity,” she said this week of her Sh2.5 billion construction. As the pressure has grown, so has her spirit swollen. She simply refused to be bogged down by the opponents.

It was in 2008 when she dropped a shocker that she was entering beer market and wrong footing rivals who expected to maintain a fight in the spirits segment. The firm had taken a Sh1.2 billion loan to upgrade its Naivasha brewery, with a small capacity of 40,000 bottles per day.