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Diageo loses millions to fake, health-imperilling Smirnoff

Diageo Corporate Security and Brand Manager Bongani Buthelezi outlining the company awareness campaign against fake products. Photo by Willem Phungula

Diageo Corporate Security and Brand Manager Bongani Buthelezi outlining the company awareness campaign against fake products. Photo by Willem Phungula

Published Nov 6, 2023


Durban — Diageo, the company that produces the popular Smirnoff 1818 vodka says it loses R10 million a year through the fake home made product widely known as “Mzambia”.

The company revealed this during the launch of its aggressive awareness campaign against the illicit trade of its brand on Friday at its plant in Isipingo south of Durban.

Outlining the campaign activities, the company’s corporate security and brand manager Bongani Buthelezi said the company was getting stiff competition from people who are producing fake Smirnoff in rural and township areas. He said the company has decided to start a campaign to drive awareness and protect its clients from these fake products.

Buthelezi said apart from losing sales, the company felt it had a responsibility to protect consumers since these fake products were harmful to the lives of the consumers.

He added that the company has invested a lot of money into the campaign which will include roadshows throughout the province, and visiting shebeens and taverns to warn people about the dangers of consuming the fake product.

“Counterfeiting is the fastest growing organised crime in the world.

“We, too, are the victims of that so we appeal to our customers to be our ambassador. We must fight this crime together. We will visit consumers wherever they are. We want them to consume a quality and safe product. We wish to warn them that ‘Mzambia’ is dangerous to their health so they must stay away from it.”

Buthelezi said the company has been forced to re-brand all sizes of Smirnoff bottles, changing labels and caps for consumers to identify the genuine from the fake product.

This crime was not only costing the company sales, he said, but the economy was suffering because the producers of these fake products were not paying tax and only making profit.

He warned that they were becoming sophisticated and were now importing bottle caps from China to make their products look authentic.

The company said it was still collecting ingredients used by the fake producers to ascertain how the fake product was being brewed. The company said its ingredients were not available to the public so there is no way that those producing the fake products could have accessed its recipe.

“Mzambia” has been around for some time but became more available during the Covid-19 lockdown when the government banned the sale of alcohol. This forced people to turn to various home-made brews, including Mzambia which is very similar to the genuine Smirnoff. Those who drink it say there is little difference between real Smirnoff and Mzambia.

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