Refreshing times are ahead for those who enjoy clashes of the big brands as Heineken ups its abv and takes on the number one
Heineken's decision not to renew its marketing and distribution deal with Interbrew has led to a beer brand shuffle that will have nostalgic consumers jumping for joy.
Fans of Castlemaine XXXX, owned by Australia's Lion Nathan, can look forward to a renaissance of the brand while retailers benefit from big marketing spends as brewers fight to establish their brands.
"We are working on a TV ad campaign and we are freshening up the design because we think it could benefit from a new look," says Richard Evans, marketing director at Interbrew that takes over the rights to XXXX next year.
The shake-up will also see Heineken return with an increased abv and premium positioning, putting it on a head-on collision with Interbrew's top-seller Stella Artois.
Heineken marketing director Leslie Meredith says: "We are about to go from partners to arch rivals. Everyone's friendly now but from February we are going to be fighting for exactly the same space."
Evans is relaxed. "Stella is way ahead in terms of market share and it has had heavy competition chasing it for many years."
Rival Coors Brewers says Heineken's decision to upweight abv does not signal tough times are ahead for standard lagers. "People assume mainstream lager is in decline, but it's not, it's showing up to 2% growth," says off-trade MD Chris Edger. "Premium is also not growing at the rate people think, it is not showing double digit growth. Both categories have a major part to play."
But Edger can appreciate the abv change and the deletion of Cold Filtered. "Heineken is an excellent company and will have taken the decision with due sense. There will be one less player in the mainstream [standard] category so the superbrands will benefit, but I'm glad Heineken is staying in the market."
Coors has every right to be bullish about the future of standard lagers. Its Carling brand is the second biggest selling alcohol brand in the multiples and co-ops after Stella Artois [TNS August 2002].
Foster's is also performing well, a trend which distributor Scottish Courage Brands saw emerging last Christmas. MD Keith Hogg says: "Beer's growth was driven by lager (+6%) within which standard grew 10% and premium 7%. Foster's was up nearly 19%."
All the big brewers point to their belief the big brands will continue to get bigger ­ which might help profits but doesn't necessarily guarantee innovation.
Sarah Fothergill, Asda beer and spirits marketing manager, says innovation is "very much price and brand focused for the main area for growth ­ premium lager". "I don't think the competitive marketplace for this product is the main driver for lack of innovation. There is still lots of scope for exciting the customer."
As well as changes in pack sizes designed to grow occasionality, Edger cites Interbrew's branded glass promotion and its own multipacks as clear innovation winners. "The Stella glasses were an excellent new idea. Innovation will continue around packaging and PoS because it's fundamental. You cannot invent new brands in this market."