Meet Tabitha Karanja: Founder of the First Large Brewery in Kenya
Tabitha Mukami Muigai Karanja is a Kenyan business woman, entrepreneur and industrialist. She is the founder and current Chief Executive Officer of Keroche Breweries, the first large brewery in Kenya owned by a non-multinational company.
Keroche accounts for 20% of Kenya’s beer consumption, as of October 2012.
Tabitha was born near Kijabe, in central Kenya. After attending Kenyan schools, she took up employment in the Ministry of Tourism as an Accounting Clerk.
She met and married her husband, who owned a successful hardware store in Naivasha town. In 1997, the couple closed the hardware store and went into the wine-making business.
Tabitha’s success story is that of resilience and fortitude. The founder and CEO of the only large-scale brewery in Kenya owned by a Kenyan. She launched Keroche Breweries alongside her husband in 1997, initially making fortified wine and later moving into spirits and, from 2008, beer.
Tabitha ventured into a territory where a few before her had dared to, breaking gender stereotypes and taking on East African Breweries (EAB), an international company that had monopolized the Kenyan market for more than 90 years. EAB’s dominance had Tabitha struggling to find distributors willing to sell her beer, but she continued pressing until the market responded to her main beer brand Summit.
Summit is now so appreciated in the country that Tabitha has now opened a $29 million expansion of its brewery. As Keroche enjoys continued growth, Tabitha plans to expand into neighboring countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.
In 2007, when the government enacted heavy taxes on locally made wines, her product was priced out of the market. She switched to manufacturing ready-to-drink gin and vodka, which her state-of-the-art factory still makes today. In 2008, she added beer to her repertoire of alcoholic drinks, beginning with a brand called “Summit”.
In 2013, the factory began expansion plans to increase beer production from 60,000 bottles per day to 600,000 bottles per day. The refurbished plant, which cost KSh5 billion (US$55.5 million), was commissioned by Adan Mohammed, the Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization, on 31 March 2015.