Heineken is confident it can restore growth to its struggling Heineken Light brand in the US by revamping the beer with new packaging and using Cascade Aroma hops favored by craft brewers.
Heineken Light had a bad H1 2013, with dollar sales of the 3.2% beer down 10.4%, which meant it underperformed the general premium lights category; the company blames a difficult year for the US beer industry in general, given bad weather and economic problems.
When asked why Heineken chose to change the beer’s taste profile using ‘workhorse’ craft beer hop Cascade Aroma, senior brand director, Heineken USA, Olga Osminkina told BeverageDaily.com that US consumer taste preferences were shifting to prefer fuller flavor beers.
“The Cascade Aroma hop is particularly beneficial in enhancing the exclusive Heineken ‘A-yeast’, which gives Heineken its distinctive flavor loved around the world, and will be a competitive differentiator for Heineken Light that will increase its flavor while remaining light and easy-to-drink,” she said.
New upmarket packaging
Osminkina believes consumers are tired of ‘light’ brands, and said using Cascade hops offset slightly watery taste profiles. New packaging also aims to make Heineken Light appear classier than rivals.
“The Cascade Aroma hop enhances our liquid with a smooth taste profile, slightly darker color and a floral, fruity hop aroma with a hint of citrus,” Osminkina said.
“This results in a fuller flavor, crisper aftertaste and a clean finish. Yet we’ve preserved the effervescent, low-calorie beer that we know Heineken Light drinkers love,” she added.
Cascade hops are favored by craft brewers – Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer’s said recently that mainstream beer brands can’t compete with the craft phenomenon – but Osminkina was coy when asked if using the hops was a nod to craft brewing or an attempt to tap that market.
Heineken was using the Cascade Aroma hop to give customers a “unique taste experience that speaks to their expanding palate”, she said.
“We’re confident in our larger upscale import strategy, as the segment is proven to drive more efficient sales for retailers than craft,” Osminkina added.
Positive momentum in Miami, Vegas, LA…
Heineken was also best positioned to meet growing multicultural consumer needs, she said, estimated to fuel 70% of future US beer growth based on current demographic trends.
Explaining Heineken Light’s poor H1 sales Osminkina said the entire beer industry – not just specific segments, “have had a more difficult year than originally anticipated, due to factors such as bad weather and the economy”.
“However, Heineken Light is an upscale, badge brand that has seen positive growth in key markets where our core consumer resides, including Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles,” she said.
So who is this core consumer?
“We’re squarely focused on the ‘Urban Achiever’ males aged 25-34 who are sophisticated, discerning and prefer high-end imports,” Osminkina said.
“This consumer is always eager to expose themselves to things that are culturally fresh and fearlessly pioneering, and Heineken Light is positioned to match their passion for creativity.”
‘Upscale category’ price will not rise
Despite the taste change Heineken Light will remain appropriately priced in the ‘upscale category’ in line with Heineken, Osminkina explained, where it had been positioned since its launch in 2006.
In terms of marketing and advertising spend on Heineken Light, she said the brewer recently launched a new out-of-home campaign using artist Fabian Oefner to support the packaging redesign.
This campaign is currently running in key major metro markets including Miami, Las Vegas and New York; Heineken Light is also focusing on event sponsorship opportunities in the art, fashion and design space for the rest of 2013.