In 2000, Ian Mackintosh, technical director of Nile Breweries in Uganda, a subsidiary of the global brewer SABMiller plc, faced a problem. Sales of the company’s clear beers had stalled, and given the relatively high prices for its products, the brewery was having a hard time reaching out to new consumers, most of whom were in the lower income brackets.

But Mackintosh knew that the demand for a cheaper beer existed. Low-income consumers in Uganda weren’t forgoing beer consumption; instead,...

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