The consumer mindset has contributed greatly to the beerscape. “Drivers of imported beer growth include the ‘mainstreaming’ of imported beer brands,” says the report. “Twenty years ago, the only consumers of imported beer were beer connoisseurs and foreigners. Today, though imports remain an upscale product, consumers from every economic, social and cultural group consume imports on occasion.”

ibdsbImports have delivered the mass that craft beers never could. While microbrews and other specialties were racking up impressive annual gains of between 22 and 42 percent from a relatively tiny base between 1991 and 1996, imports, with a more significant base, were beginning to register increases in the low double-digits. The craft explosion left a halo around imports as well–and it’s the foreign beers that have continued to benefit as domestic specialties have sagged (actually off by 1 to 2 percent in ’98, says BMC).

So it’s a bittersweet legacy left by the major micro excitement of the mid-’90s. “Once content with mass-produced domestic lagers, consumers are more frequently opting for higher-quality, fuller-bodied, rich-tasting beers,” notes the report. “In addition, the brand preference set for any given beer drinker is likely to have expanded. Where once a consumer would be loyal to a single brand, he or she is now more likely to select different brands based on the consumption occasion. Of no lesser importance is consumers’ current willingness to pay a premium for high-end brands.”

That circumstance could describe domestic specialties and imports…but it only works for the latter. The report explains, “The imported market seems to have benefited from the rise of the craft segment, and may now benefit from its weakening.” Blame new-product fatigue for consumer disenchantment with crafts, but credit the importers who have been in the game for the long haul.

“As opposed to the new, less-established craft beers,” says the report, “imports have the infrastructure and resources to compete long-term in the marketplace against the domestic beer giants.”

The IMPORT Files

* Corona’s ascent to Numero Uno means Heineken isn’t the top-selling foreign brew for the first time in modern history.

* Mexico and Canada combine for more than half of all imports. When the Netherlands is factored in, three countries account for more than 75 percent of all beer imported into the US.

* Given the price differential between North American and European imports, the Netherlands still contributes more dollars–over a third of the segment total–than any other nation to imports’ bottom line.

* New York drinks more imports than any other state, accounting for over 25 percent of the nation’s total. California and New Jersey place and show. Despite Texas’ proximity to Mexico, the Lone Star State ranks sixth.

* Boston may be home to craft standard-bearer Samuel Adams, but it’s also the fifth-biggest import-consuming metro area in the US. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are 1-2-3.

Corona Pushes Onward (and Light-ward)

With Corona Extra well in front as the leading import, the Gambrinus Company, which distributes the brand in the Eastern US, is betting that Corona Light will succeed with the introduction of a new look and advertising campaign. The new graphics and campaign are reminiscent of the current imagery, but more clearly define Corona Light as a “light” product.

“The new graphics were designed to essentially improve the brand’s visibility in the marketplace,” says Don Mann, Modelo products director for The Gambrinus Company. “The label accomplishes this by introducing the new color of yellow, and placing additional emphasis on the word ‘light.’ From the consumer’s standpoint, the package should be instantly recognizable as a Corona product but also recognizable as a ‘light’ product.”

The prior package, adds Mann, was simply a white outline and generated poor visibility in the marketplace. “It limited our ability to promote arid market the brand,” he explains.

Gambrinus considers Corona Light to be its next major growth opportunity in the Corona franchise. “In recent years,” says Mann, “we have applied increasing efforts to building the distribution of Light. But in 1998, Corona Light represented only 6 percent of total Corona volume, and the total beer category is 44 percent light beer.”

This relaunch of Corona Light will be different from previous incarnations, says Mann. Corona Light will now have its own radio, television and outdoor advertising campaign, due to kickoff this summer. The themeline is “Miles Away From Other Light Beers,” which is in keeping with current Jimmy Buffett-style Corona imagery, but distinct in its emphasis on ‘light.’ The radio spots will air across most of Gambrinus’ markets, and while outdoor media, or billboards, have been mostly used in recent years for Corona Extra, in 1999 they will be used to support Corona Light. The new ads compare Light to a flamingo, and regular light to a buzzard.

Gambrinus will also be introducing regional television spots in key light beer markets; this marks the first time that the Corona Light brand has received its own television campaign. The total media investment for The Gambrinus Company is in the neighborhood of $2 million-plus, says Mann.

“The television campaign presents Corona Light in the context of an alternative to other light beers, rather than as an alternative to Corona,” says Mann.

Heineken’s New ‘International Can of Mystery’

Heineken may have slipped behind Corona to the No. 2 spot in the import pecking order, but the longtime king of foreign beers is hardly standing still. Last month, Heineken rolled out a new single-serve keg can as part of a special promotion linked with Mike Myers’ new Austin Powers flick, The Spy Who Shagged Me. The design of the contoured can is meant to “play off consumers’ memories of fun times at keg parties,” explains Ken Kunze, marketing director for the brand. Test-marketed in the New York area during the fourth quarter of 998, Heineken Keg Cans were greeted with enough enthusiasm that the company decided to go nationwide with the promotion.

A full merchandising program accompanies the rollout, so that “swingers” can “dig” merchandise made available from POS catalogs. Among the items listed in Austin Powers “Groovy Grab Bag”: a flowered lava lamp, a “talking” T-shirt that uses voice-chip technology, a Heineken Red Star neon light, a Mojo pendant, specially identified pint glasses, temporary tattoos, flowered coasters with the Heineken logo and a video/soundtrack combo set of the original movie.

In an effort to meet a wider variety of drinking occasions. Heineken has also brought to market a more standard 6-ounce can. (Until March. Heineken only had a 12-ounce can available in the us.) Targeted specifically to c-stores, delis and other off-premise outlets where single-serve purchases make up the bulk of beer sales, this i6-ounce can is ideal for immediate consumption.

“What we’re doing with these two different can packages is making the product more relevant for more occasions, and this i6-ounce package in either a 6-pack or single-serve is a very popular package for the convenience store channel,” says Dan Tearno, vice president of corporate affairs for Heineken USA (White Plains, NY).

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