|Heineken: learning from beer and cider category|
|Friday, 12 August 2011 11:03|
Wine and spirits firms should be keeping an eye on Heineken – the beer and cider giant has pledged to remove 100 million units per year from a mainstream brand. It is currently investigating how best to approach this and which brand it should cut alcohol content from.
Nigel Pollard, head of external communications at Heineken UK, says that over and above signing up to the core alcohol pledges, Heineken has committed to cut 100 million units, put unit markers on all branded glassware, and has jointly committed to fund the Best Bar None project. He calls on the health professionals, the media and the government to “judge us by our actions”.
Although some health professionals question how a business can reconcile its commercial strategy with one that would see it selling less, Pollard believes it’s not a problem.
He gives the example of White Lightning, the now defunct Heineken cider brand. Originally it had an 8.5% abv content, which was lowered to 7.5% abv, then 5.5% abv, before Heineken decided to stop making it in 2009, despite sound profits.
On reducing the 100 million units, Pollard points out that if you have a high volume brand, you can take a small amount of alcohol out of the formulation to reach the target. “It’s not as simple as just knocking 1% abv off something,” he adds. “What it’s not about is reducing the alcoholic content of products across our whole range. We’re not saying there’s no place for 5% beers.”
In fact, it recently introduced a 4.8% abv beer to the off-trade, Foster’s Gold. “It’s a more premium offering, the idea is that people will drink it less frequently and savour it more.”
He says reducing the abv content in one of its brands will not be a “big bang” process, adding that it is already working behind the scenes on recipe adjustments. He’s also clear that this won’t just be a brand extension. He says it must entirely replace one of its products with the lower-strength version, otherwise it would be failing to meet its commitment.
Talking to consumers is another important aspect of the project. “We have to take them with us,” he says. This will be done in a number of ways, firstly, the science part, or “getting the recipe right”. With previous reformulations it has done lots of blind tasting, and only progressed with a product when it is confident consumers will be happy. “You have got to make sure you don’t alienate people who have invested emotional energy and commitment in your brand.”
Another key question is whether the lower abv product will result in a less expensive product. Pollard doesn’t think so, given that manufacturing costs won’t necessarily become cheaper. “The days of pricing being entirely dependent on abv content are long past us,” he concludes.
Pollard also believes there is an increasing trend among beer drinkers to pay attention to a product’s provenance and quality – you only need to look at the marketing campaigns behind Beck’s Vier and Stella Artois 4%.