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Heineken…..Getting More Crafty

It’s an interesting play not much remarked on so far, but Heineken USA has launched multiple products that display a distinctly more craft-like appeal in 2011. They are each small volume, yet in aggregate they demonstrate more seriousness from the #2 importer about playing in this space (and therefore ultimately more competition for craft). HUSA ramping up its efforts this fall as just one part of an overarching initiative from the co to become more innovative. “You just have to look at the market,” said HUSA veep Colin Westcott Pitt, “the consumer is much more interested in trying new things.”

For example, there are Newcastle Limited Edition Ales, 4 seasonally rotated brews, “a little more eclectic and interesting,” said Colin. Fall seasonal Werewolf (a “blood red Ale”) is off to a fast start. It first became available at beginning of Aug and will be in mkt for 12 weeks, but has “already depleted most of its inventory,” added Colin. Noting that there are a “lot of Octoberfests” out there, Colin said HUSA wanted to try something “a little different” that was “true to the brand.” One large West Coast wholesaler commended HUSA for trying Limited Editions as a “great way to make the [Newcastle] brand more relevant” in its mature mkts.

Newcastle Brown is down 4% nationwide in Symphony IRI Group food/drug/c-store data yr-to-date thru Sep 4. Down 2% last 4 weeks. If seasonals rep 5% or so of volume, that could bring total brand back to plus column. As with most craft seasonals, sez source, there are startup issues related to chain authorizations, keg vs packaged and fact that inevitably one seasonal pulls thru better than another. Expect HUSA to improve on these dimensions as time goes on. All limited editions are in 12 mkts that represent just over half of Newcastle volume, including Calif, the Carolinas, Ga and some big cities like Boston, Chi, etc. Next up: a Winter IPA.

HUSA also just released Amstel Wheat Bier. It will be tested in 7 cities (NYC, Boston, Providence, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chi and SF) “with plans for nationwide expansion to be made by yearend.” HUSA had originally talked only of a test, but it will definitely be expanded, noting “very early velocities” are good and wheat is “such a strong segment.” (See below.) HUSA also releasing Noche Buena, a Bock-styled lager seasonal from FEMSA portfolio as a fall/winter beer in Tex and Chi in early Oct. One Tex retailer CBN talked to said customers have called for it for yrs and he expected it to sell well.

Ironically, Heineken had strong portfolio of craft style beers in US a few years back, brands which it owns and sells in other countries. They were sold through a money-losing subsidiary called Star Brands, but Heineken dismantled it and sold it off. Star Brands portfolio included such niche equities as Strongbow Cider, Paulaner, Affligem and Moretti La Rossa. At least some of Star brands flourishing under new importers. But the new extensions trade off established global equities of Newcastle/Amstel; Noche Buena is well-known in Mexico.

(courtesy of BeerNews.org)

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