CORONA EXTRA POISED TO PASS HEINEKEN AS TOP IMPORT BEER: $10 MIL ALLOTED FOR NATIONAL TV DURING 1998

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The U.S. distributors of Corona Extra have set their sights on toppling Heineken as the best-selling import next year, and are boosting ad support 66% from 1997's budget.

Barton Beers and Gambrinus Co., the joint importers of Corona Extra and Corona Light, are planning to spend $10 million in national TV advertising for the brand, according to the companies.

The importers, which split the country into 25-state regions, will be stepping up separate ad efforts in their territories as well. Both Barton and Gambrinus plan to boost their regional radio and outdoor support for the brand about 30%, to $6 million each.

During the first six months of 1997, the importers backed Corona Extra with $3.6 million in ads, $2.5 million of it in cable and syndicated TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

"We anticipate slipping by Heineken sometime after the first of the year," said Ron Christesson, director of marketing for Gambrinus, which handles Corona for Texas and the eastern part of the U.S.

"We're increasing marketing in hopes of keeping the growth going," said Bill Hackett, Barton president.

Benj Steinman, associate publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights, said he also expects Corona Extra to surpass Heineken in 1998.

DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH

Corona Extra is on its way to clocking in its fourth straight year of double-digit growth. In 1996, the brand posted a 35.7% sales increase to 28.9 million cases, according to Impact, an industry newsletter. Heineken grew 7.2% to 36.7 million.

Heineken had a 21.9% share of the imported beer market last year, while Corona Extra had 17.3%, according to Impact.

The Mexican import, brewed by Grupo Modelo, already held an edge in supermarket sales, and sales of Corona Extra during the 52 weeks ended Sept. 7 hit 6.3 million cases in supermarkets, up 44% from the year-earlier period, according to Information Resources Inc. Heineken grew 9.7%, to 3.6 million cases, in the same period, according to IRI.

Importer Heineken USA last year said it would spend about $30 million supporting its flagship brand in '97, with spending expected to increase next year (AA, Oct. 20).

The Corona importers will stick with their ad theme of "fun, sun and beach" in 1998, the importers said.

They may, however, bring a new national ad agency into the mix. Richards Group, Dallas, which works closely with Gambrinus, may share some work with current national agency Lois/EJL, Chicago.

Barton also plans to put more muscle behind its smaller Grupo Modelo brands.

Gambrinus plans to concentrate efforts on New York, including adding a new promotion. It also will step up its presence on Spanish-language radio and

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