“Heineken NV is giving its green bottle a face-lift in the U.S., hoping it will help its flagship Dutch lager and one-time leading beer import stand tall again after years of market-share losses.” reported the WSJ.
Back in the early 80’s, two of the largest and most successful brands changed their packaging and labels in an effort to change their negative sales trends. In spite of these changes, Schlitz and Coors continued to decline. In fact, the CEO of Schlitz at that time, went on TV and said he had come to Schlitz (AB background) to “make the best” beer, when in fact, all this did was to give the consumer(s), who had supported the brand for years, a reason to switch. During this time, many regional brands attempted a similar strategy. In Texas, two of them were Lone Star and Pearl. None of these package changes worked. What I find ironic, is that now you can buy “heritage” Coors cans (and Miller High Life bottles), which feature various can designs over the years in specially marked packaging. It seems to be working as the brand is now growing. In fact, the current can is very similar to the cans of the 60’s and 70’s. Schlitz is trying to make a comeback by featuring a package that highlights the “original liquid,” the retro label from those days, and some 60’s posters. Then there is the retro winner, Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Since 1946, Heineken, the second largest selling import, has had the same bottle. Now does anyone out there really think this change will reverse sales trends? History says no.
The CEO of Warsteiner commented to me that he could send a German to the States head up their US operation. I asked him, in his opinion, “Just how successful I would be if I went to Germany to establish an American beer?” He told me, “ You would fail.” So what’s the difference between a US beer professional trying to tell a European how to run their business, and a European telling a US company how to run their business?
I have never seen a more episodic and complete marketing program then Heineken had 10 years ago. They really understood their consumer and how to relate to them. Heineken knew what they wanted and they got it. So what has really changed? Crafts? Perhaps, but could it be that a centralized business model has slowed down the brand? How long is the learning curve when the head of the US operation comes to this country and attempts to in-grain their home countries culture?
If you go back four years and look at how the European breweries addressed the US recession, and the decline in the exchange rate of the dollar, you can see how Heineken, along with other importers, reacted and are now are dealing with the results of their reactions. The decision to raise prices (dramatically), reduce marketing, and cut field staff, along with the growing interest in US crafts, might just be why Heineken is in their current position.
Or maybe not? Remember, ABI in the last year changed the Budweiser label, arguably one of the most, if not the most recognizable consumer label in the world, in an effort to change their sales trends! I guess soon we’ll see a “heritage” collection of Budweiser cans on the shelf, too? So look for a similar 12 pack from Heineken in the future! Once you’re in the hole, it’s hard to stop digging!