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HOUSTON -- By most accounts, 2013 was not exactly a banner year for the beer category. While Heineken USA weathered last year better than most, the company is charting a course to make sure 2014 is nothing short of legendary.
In early April, Heineken USA held its annual National Distributors Conference in Houston. The event not only outlined the company's plans for this year, but also aimed to rally the troops behind the strong brands that make up Heineken USA’s portfolio.
Heineken USA has been accelerating its share on- and off-premise nationally. The company continues to make progress on its journey, and President and CEO Dolf van den Brink said he is feeling more optimistic about the industry as a whole compared to the same time last year.
"Last year, I said it was the dawn of a new age of beer. That proved to be a false dawn. There have been clouds. Beer continues to face challenges and it's larger than just beer," he said, pointing to two major forces at play: innovation across all categories and growing consumer skepticism.
"Beer is one of the most innovative segments across all segments. There are a limitless number of new breweries, brands and items sold. The days of a few players are over," van den Brink explained. As the number of brands grows, though, so does overexposure. "Ninety-two percent of all brands could go extinct and consumers would say, 'So what?'" he added.
The key lies in building more meaningful relationships with consumers. And when it comes to consumers, there are two schools of thought: live thoughtfully and live legendary.
Live thoughtfully is characterized by slowing down, turning off and tuning out. Conversely, live legendary is characterized as being up for anything and wanting amazing, unforgettable experiences — it's not what you buy, but what you do, said van den Brink.
"Heineken USA takes dead aim at live legendary. There is massive opportunity in the live legendary trend and Heineken USA is uniquely positioned to take advantage," he stated.
Still, the imported beer category must battle with wine, spirits, cider, craft and flavored malt beverages to win consumers, cautioned Nuno Teles, chief marketing officer. "We need to fight for our upscale category. Consumers are moving at the speed of light and trading up," he said. "We need to change the conversation toward the live legendary Heineken story."
Heineken USA and its tops brands — Heineken, Dos Equis, Strongbow, Amstel Light, Newcastle Brown Ale, Tecate and Desperados — are fully invested in changing the conversation.
During the National Distributors Conference, various brand highlights were provided:
This year, the Heineken brand will launch two summer programs — a first for the brand — "Cities" and "Savor Your Summer." These two programs will be followed by Heineken's holiday program, which will feature Heineken Light beside Heineken for the first time in the brand's overall promotion of point-of-sale and 12-packs.
The Heineken brand also recently debuted a new 8.5-ounce slim can, which is being supported by out-of-home marketing in nine key markets this summer. In addition, consumers will see a new star can design for the entire Heineken can range rolling out in the summer.
Newcastle Brown Ale
Newcastle Brown Ale will continue its "No Bollocks" campaign this year. As of December, the brand's advertising went 100-percent digital with no plans to turn back. Consumers will see ramped up promotional activity at retail and revamped limited-edition packaging of Newcastle Bombshell and Newcastle Werewolf.
As for the cider market, Heineken USA is doubling down on Strongbow. The brand is available in two new flavors this year, and the bottle and packaging both received new, upgraded, modern designs. Strongbow will be paired with other Heineken USA brands in sponsoring key events throughout the year, including the U.S. Open tennis tournament in August.
New product innovation is a focus as well for Amstel Light. The brand is embracing flavor with the addition of Amstel Radler to its lineup. The product is 60 percent lemon juice and other natural flavors, and 40 percent beer with an ABV of 2 percent. Amstel Radler is rolling out in select markets this year with plans to potentially bring it to the national stage in 2015.
In the light beer category, Heineken USA is embracing the next evolution of the segment with Tecate Light, a light, lager-style complement to Tecate. According to the company, Tecate Light will target biculturals and multiculturals — second and third generation U.S.-born Hispanic consumers. Flavor will be the highlight of its advertising campaign.
As challenging as 2013 was for some beer brands, Dos Equis has and continues to be a bright spot for Heineken USA. The brand experienced 16-percent growth, on average, year over year from 2007 to 2013. In addition to its Cinco de Mayo campaign — or "Dos de Mayo" — the brand will bring back its Dos Equis Masquerade Halloween campaign. It will include two new masquerade television spots as the brand strives to own October.
Dos Equis will also debut new liquid innovations this year, including Dos-A-Rita; a summer beer Dos Equis Azul; and a fall beer Dos Equis Invierno. Azul and Invierno will be featured in the company’s Beers of Mexico pack.
Besides detailing plans for its existing brands, Heineken USA used the occasion of its 2014 National Distributors Conference to unveil Desperados, a beverage that sits at the crossroads of beer and spirits. Blended with tequila barrel-aged lager, the product is a European import intended to take over the nightlife scene.
Desperados will take aim at the Millennial demographic. According to the company, it has already seen global success in about 60 countries. Desperados made its U.S. debut in five southeastern markets: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. Plans call for the product to go national in early 2015.