The newly merged Scottish & Newcastle/Heineken business has unveiled audacious plans to turn its Murphy's Irish Stout brand into a serious contender to Diageo-owned Guinness's crown.

Prior to the merger, the stout was being brewed under licence by rival InBev. Following the decision to bring it back in house, Heineken is planning a big push behind the brand next year, The Grocer can reveal.

"We are going to be far more vigorous participants in the stout category than we have been before," said S&N UK MD, Jeremy Blood, in an exclusive interview. "InBev has run the brand successfully and I'm not going to criticise what it has done, but it hasn't had the passion of brand owners. I think we will be able to give Guinness more of a run for its money."

Blood also revealed UK plans for Heineken's Italian brand Birra Moretti, which will go up against Peroni's Nastro Azzurro. "I am a huge admirer of Peroni, but it has almost moved out of being a speciality Italian beer to being an international lifestyle brand and I see an opportunity for Moretti to fill the gap that's left," he said.

"We will start by concentrating on the Italian restaurant sector . We will be talking about the fact it is the number one beer brand in Italy, which Peroni isn't."

Heineken-owned Cruzcampo from Spain and Asian lager Tiger had also been earmarked for UK growth, he added, while S&N brands such as Newcastle Brown Ale and Strongbow were seen as significant export opportunities.

"More than half Newcastle Brown Ale sales are now in the US and with Heineken the biggest importer of beers into that market, there is huge opportunity for growth," Blood said.

"The company has also spotted opportunities for Strongbow, which it is looking to launch through the Dutch arm and to develop in other markets around the world."

Heineken acquired S&N UK earlier this year, as part of a joint takeover of the global business with Carlsberg.