Heineken USA Sales Fell Nearly 11% in 2009

Poor Performance of Lager Contributed to Drop; Meanwhile Dos Equis, Tecate Light Saw Gains

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Heineken USA's sales dipped nearly 11% last year, a reflection of a difficult economic climate for pricey imports as well as erratic and ineffective marketing on its flagship lager brand.

The No. 2 importer's total sales declined 10.7%, worse than the 9.8% drop for the total imported beer segment as well as the 6.8% decline posted by its chief rival, Corona marketer Crown Imports.

The biggest culprit: a 10% decline in Heineken Lager, the No. 2 imported brand. (The importer's other Dutch brands, Heineken Premium Light and Amstel Light, also saw steep declines.)

Those struggles prompted Heineken to change creative agencies last year, as the marketer dumped Wieden & Kennedy for Euro RSCG, which became its fourth creative shop since 2006.

In its earnings release today, Dutch parent Heineken NV cited the "decline in the import segment and price competition" as a factor in its U.S. struggles, but the phenomenon didn't seem to slow the marketer's Dos Equis brand down at all.

Despite the sales declines, Heineken did manage to boost its earnings in the U.S., saying key drivers were the price increase across the Dutch portfolio implemented at the end of 2008 and lower marketing rates. The Dutch parent did not break out specific earnings numbers for the U.S.

Dos Equis, sold at a similar price point to Heineken, saw sales jump 20% during 2009, fueled by increasing distribution and the marketing phenomenon that is Euro's "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign.

Heineken USA also saw a 14% gain on Tecate Light, an economy brand.

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