frederic landtmeters molson coors beer

He comes from one of Europe’s great beer-drinking countries, and spent the last five years working in another, but Frederic Landtmeters has been pleasantly surprised by what Britain has to offer since arriving in January to head up Molson Coors’ UK operation. “When people ask me what has been the biggest surprise,” he says, “it’s been the richness of beer styles, products, craft beers that I’ve found in this country.”

Originally from Belgium, Landtmeters headed to Prague in 2010 to become chief marketing officer for StarBev, the company spun off from InBev following its merger with Anheuser-Busch. When StarBev, which owned a roster of eastern European brands including Staropramen, was acquired by Molson Coors, Landtmeters stayed on as CCO for Europe. His appointment as UK MD sees him take charge of a national business that is in the middle of a five-year, £75m investment in its Burton site, where it makes brands including Carling, Coors Light and Cobra.

And soon, Landtmeters will get his hands on a brand especially close to his heart. Due to the tangled web of beer brand ownership, Staropramen has until now been sold in the UK by Carlsberg, but from December Molson Coors will take over exclusive distribution of the rapidly growing lager.

“There’s definitely an emotional element to it,” says Landtmeters, of the beer that for five years was at the heart of his job. “But the growth of the brand outside the Czech Republic was one of the focus areas during the time of StarBev. We grew the brand from almost nothing to a pretty significant brand.”

With sales of £15.1m, and growing at 67.6% [Nielsen 52 w/e 25 April 2015], it’s hard to argue Staropramen is insignificant, but it’s nothing compared with the other brand to join the company’s portfolio in recent weeks.

Last month, Molson Coors bought out Manchester-based Chilli Marketing, in the process gaining the rights to import Sweden’s Rekorderlig cider, and giving it a way into the lucrative premium fruit cider category.

After years of seemingly unstoppable growth, the cider category has gone into decline, with only two areas prospering: premium traditional (Weston’s, Thatchers) and fruit cider. Worth £33.1m and growing at 7.6%, it’s not hard to see the draw of Rekorderlig.

“We definitely felt that there was an opportunity to build a stronger cider portfolio,” says Landtmeters. “Our ambition is to be first choice for consumers. And in the cider area we had to admit that with Carling only it was not enough.”

But there are two interlinking challenges for Rekorderlig. First, supermarket moves to rationalise their ranges. Earlier this year, Carling’s brand director told The Grocer Carling cider would be limited to three flavours, arguing that was the optimum size for a range. By contrast, Rekorderlig offers nine.

Then there’s the presence of a certain competitor. When I ask about the strengths of the Rekorderlig brand, Landtmeters says the brand has a “beautiful Swedish positioning. It’s a story of Sweden as a credible country in terms of cider.” But what makes Sweden a “credible” country for cider? “It’s a country that has a heritage. There are a number of brands that come from Sweden in the cider area.”

Including Kopparberg, which is more than three times as valuable as Rekorderlig and growing at the same rate. Between them, the two brands effectively are the international cider category. They also offer a very similar proposition, with roughly the same price point, and the same flavours - strawberry & lime and mixed fruit/wild berries - leading sales.

Nevertheless, Landtmeters says there are no plans to reduce the Rekorderlig range, arguing retailers will protect areas of growth. “Premium packaged fruit cider is in serious growth, and I think actually the variety of flavours is the name of the game. I don’t think our customers are going to do stupid things in those areas, which are bringing shoppers, value and opportunity to them.”

When it comes to differentiating his new property from Kopparberg, though, Landtmeters reluctantly agrees he has a task on his hands. “At first sight there are a lot of similarities,” he says. “Our job, if we want to get to the next level of growth, is to identify the differentiators and overplay them to make sure we can build a credible, standalone differentiated brand.” With the ink barely dry on the contract, he doesn’t have much in the way of specifics, but does drop a hint on Rekorderlig’s marketing direction.

“There’s a strong story behind the brand that is worth amplifying,” he says. “That’s an area we’re definitely going to be exploring.”

Small fry

Fruit cider and craft beer, which Molson Coors has a hand in thanks to its ownership of Doom Bar maker Sharp’s Brewery, might be the current darlings of the category, but they’re still small fry compared with the lager giants. Molson Coors’ flagship brand, Carling, is worth six times as much as the next largest, Coors Light, and along with most mid-strength lagers, it’s swimming in troubled waters. Sales of the lager are down 7.1% to £300.5m on volumes down 5.3%. Landtmeters acknowledges Carling’s poor sales are a result of a reluctance to enter into the same deep discounting as his competitors. While deals for the brand were up from 462 to 519 in the year to April, the rise was much higher for Foster’s, Stella and Carlsberg [Assosia].

“We had a very tough start to the year,” he says. “In the longer run, we’ve got a winning strategy.” It is based on increasing the perception of added value, which has seen two major on-pack giveaways in larger Carling multipacks in the last two years including a £10 voucher for sports retailer

“We’ve been trying to sell value beyond price on Carling,” says Landtmeters. “This is something we believe is going to address the long-term decline of the category as well as the short-term figures we’re seeing on the Carling brand. I’ve been in beverages more than 15 years, and I don’t think I can recall one single brand that has sustainably been successful based on discounts only. There has to be added value.”

Mainstream lager is in “decline” he adds. “There’s no denying that. Our job is to make sure the decline is limited, and within that declining category we are one of the survivors.”


Name: Frederic Landtmeters

Age: 41

Place of birth: Antwerp, Belgium

Status: Married to Veronique, with two children: Cedric, 13 and Manu, 11

Potted cv: Started in brand management roles at Procter & Gamble and Schweppes; joined the brewing industry with a move to InBev, where he was global brand director then marketing director for Benelux and France

Best career decision: Staying with Molson Coors and discovering a great company where the family still have a stamp on the business.

Business idol: “Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines. 15 years before Ryanair, he launched the most successful low-cost airline, which became one of the most admired companies in the US. He did this by driving a unique company culture, while never taking himself too seriously.”

Mantra: “Don’t postpone until tomorrow what you can do today.”

Hobbies: Travelling and mountain biking

Favourite food: “I’m discovering the curry culture in this country, but Thai food would probably be number one”

Favourite film: Pulp Fiction

Last book read: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson