UK-based Kenyan takes muratina brew to the world

King’ori Wambaki

Mr King’ori Wambaki established an alcohol business supplying Muratina to supermarkets and businesses in the UK last year.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Trendy and produced professionally, Muratelia is a game changer in the UK market.
  • Mr Wambaki hopes to return home by next year and help establish the brand’s first commercialised product in the market.

The mention of Muratina, a traditional alcoholic brew from the Agikuyu community, conjures up the image of old people sipping a brown liquid from cow horns in celebration of birth, initiation or at weddings.

This has always been the environment around which the traditional brew is prepared and, for many years, it has remained a celebratory, non-commercialised alcoholic product in the community.

And it was through the same lens that Mr King’ori Wambaki grew up looking at the brew any time he paid visits to his relatives upcountry when he lived in Nairobi, until he grew up only to realise that the drink had never been commercialised.

“I was shocked to realise that the beverage was not being produced commercially. So I saw this as a golden opportunity to offer the world something unique and different,” says Mr Wambaki, who lives in the United Kingdom (UK).

Mr Wambaki established an alcohol business supplying the beverage to supermarkets and businesses in the UK last year.

Thanks to his ingenuity, Britons are today consuming the long-cherished local beverage, which is available at supermarket shelves under the name Muratelia, packed in beautiful black wine bottles of 750 millilitre and selling at Sh23,000. Today, the business has sold over 8,000 bottles of the beverage.

It is all the product of Mr Wambaki’s innovation and entrepreneurial drive, that saw him last year – in the middle of a global pandemic – establish one of the newest alcohol businesses in the UK, and commercialise a drink that has for long been ignored in Kenya, its use being mainly reserved for non-business occasions.

Bottled muratina

Mr King’ori Wambaki’s product which is available in UK supermarkets under the name Muratelia.

Photo credit: Pool

“Muratelia itself is the sparkling wine version of the traditional Kenyan beverage flavoured with pineapple and mango,” says Mr Wambaki, explaining his one-year business journey in the alcohol industry.

“I started Muratina Limited at the beginning of last year using Virgin Start-Up (a fund for startup businesses in the UK) to get funding and also to mentor me in starting the venture and later in August, we had produced beverage,” he said.

Trendy and produced professionally, Muratelia is a game changer in the UK market and Mr Wambaki hopes to come back home by next year and help establish the brand’s first commercialised product in the market.

“Muratelia has become surprisingly of interest in international markets, now we are in the process of producing 8,000 bottles from 1,000 initially,” he explained.

Mr Wambaki says having learnt about Muratina through his interactions with Kenyans and his relatives who knew how to prepare the brew, he identified the market gap, which was “a golden opportunity to offer the world something unique and different”.

He had intended to commercialise the product in Kenya first, but he could not get a partner with the required production capacity. He now promises to build a Muratelia winery in Kenya.

“When trying to produce the brand in Kenya, it was hard to find wineries that would agree to make the beverage on my behalf. The ones I engaged said they did not have the capacity, while others simply did not want to do it. Now, I plan on making Kenya the main headquarters for all my operations,” says Mr Wambaki.

The student of economics at the University of Bradford recalls that he did not have much knowledge about the liquor industry while starting, and thus had to conduct research before venturing into the business that is now promising growth beyond limits.

Troubling starting times

The entrepreneur notes that producing the beverage, in itself, has been an achievement, since it is a feat “surprisingly difficult to do in the UK.” 

“I launched Muratelia when the UK had imposed lockdown restrictions. Restaurants had closed and other businesses were reluctant in stocking the beverage as it is a new brand. Covid-19 restrictions also made them more cautious,” Wambaki told the Nation.

But he noted that during the troubling starting times “the support from the Kenyan community has really helped propel the business forward in raising awareness and spreading the feedback of Muratelia”.

And now, the business is growing faster and wider than he anticipated, as Mr Wambaki gets invites to produce the beverage in different other countries, where potential partners have shown interest in managing the subsidiaries there.

He notes that the reason Muratina had not gone international is because the art of producing it had not been perfected as a craft. As a result, Kenyans and people internationally could not quite embrace the beverage as they should have.

“I believe Muratelia (Muratina) should be an international household name the same way Moet or Prosecco is considered. It has a place in world markets and I feel the opportunities are there to grab.

The product is performing better than initially started as it has been able to gain traction in awareness and sales since August. The next step is to be listed on more online marketplaces and having outdoor stands in public places,” a confident Wambaki says.