Yangon (AFP) – When Japanese brewing giant Kirin ended its operations in Myanmar last month, the news made no difference to Kyaw Gyi – like many drinkers, he had long boycotted the beer he produced with a military conglomerate.
For years Myanmar beer has dominated bars and supermarket shelves, its Japanese backing a sign of economic liberalization in the Southeast Asian country after the military loosened its grip on power in 2011 .
But after the generals ousted the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year, many turned their backs on the brew, along with a host of other products made by companies linked to the armed forces. , coffee soap.
“We know other beer brands pay taxes to the military, but we don’t want all our money going to them,” sailor Kyaw Gyi said, sitting outside a bar on Yangon’s 19th Street, a popular drinking spot.
“We avoid it. If there is only Myanmar beer in the restaurant, we don’t drink beer,” he said under an alias.
Further down the street in busy downtown Yangon, restaurant manager Zaw Naing said his establishment had not sold a 5% light beer since April last year.
It wasn’t just beer orders they had canceled, he added, they also asked the brand to take back all chairs, tables and umbrellas that bore its red, white and gold emblem.
“If people see the Myanmar Beer logo with our restaurant name, they won’t come,” he said, also asking to use a pseudonym.
As anger mounts over the military’s crackdown on dissent – which a local watchdog group says has killed more than 1,700 people – establishments that still serve beer have faced more serious consequences .
In early March, bombs were thrown outside two bars in Yangon and a restaurant in the second city of Mandalay that were still selling beer, according to local media.
Drivers transporting the beer in the rural central plains were also arrested by local anti-coup groups and their cargo ransacked, according to local media.
Myanmar Brewery – the company run by Kirin and military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings – had a nearly 80% market share, according to figures released by Kirin in 2018.
After months of Covid and coup-related disruption in 2021, its year-end operating profit was just 6.6 billion yen ($54 million) – down from 13.8 billion. the previous year.
In February, after months of trying to dissolve its partnership with the military-backed firm and as pressure from rights groups intensified, the Japanese giant announced it would leave Myanmar.
The boycott and its upcoming exit leaves rivals Heineken, Carlsberg and Thailand’s Chang watching the gap in the market.
The three breweries “have taken market share from Myanmar Beer, especially in cities”, said a Yangon-based market watcher who did not wish to be named.
AFP has contacted Carlsberg for comment.
A Heineken representative who requested anonymity said it was “too early to assess and comment on consumer buying habits”.
“We keep drinking”
But back on 19th Street, Aung Myo said customers had long since switched to untainted beers through ties to military-backed companies like Chang, Heineken-owned Tiger and Carlsberg’s Tuborg.
“People don’t want to drink Myanmar beer even if it tastes good,” he told AFP.
“Demand is definitely down.”
In Myanmar’s complex political landscape, there are still areas where punters can enjoy a Myanmar beer in peace.
Crowded bars in the army-built capital, Naypyidaw, were still serving it on a recent Saturday night, and the brew is believed to still be available in more remote rural areas that have seen little coup-related violence.
The boycott was also pushed back in Rakhine, in the west, where a truce between the junta and rebels of the Arakan Army (AA) fighting for greater autonomy isolated the state from unrest in a much of the rest of Myanmar.
“We don’t see any boycott movement here,” government worker Htun Htun, 28, said at a bar in the state capital, Sittwe, where billboards for beer still lined the streets.
“So we keep drinking it… The alcohol content is not too high and the taste is good.”
Analysts say the AA is taking advantage of the calm to expand its presence in the state, setting up its own courts and administration while the junta battles anti-coup dissidents elsewhere.
Clashes between AA and the military in 2019 displaced more than 200,000 people across the state, one of the poorest in Myanmar.
As long as the current peace lasts, Nyi Nyi, 27, said he would not seek change.
“If there is no problem with the army, we will always choose our usual Myanmar beer,” he said.
© 2022 AFP