Heineken Wages Fierce Battle vs. New Rival -- Itself

Brewer's Amstel Loses Share as Flagship's Premium Light Gains

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Heineken's Amstel Light is struggling to maintain relevance within the import-light-beer category it invented, and the culprit may be ... Heineken Premium Light.
Heineken is in a light-beer war with itself as its Amstel is eclipsed by Heineken Premium Light.
Heineken is in a light-beer war with itself as its Amstel is eclipsed by Heineken Premium Light.

Amstel sales drop
While this summer's launch of Heineken Premium Light exceeded most industry expectations, sibling brand Amstel has seen its already-flagging sales drop even further, losing its long-held top ranking among imported light beers to Corona Light.

Amstel saw shipments fall 4% last year in a red-hot import market that grew 7% overall, and Amstel's sales are down about 11% this summer.

Different drinkers?
Heineken insists Premium Light targets different drinkers than Amstel, and is breaking a branding push to draw clearer lines between the two brands. The campaign, an extension of the "Live Tastefully" effort from Publicis, New York, that launched late last year, will lean on upscale event marketing to re-establish Amstel's luxury credentials.

"They're right to try to freshen it up a bit," said alcohol-industry consultant Arthur Shapiro. "But I don't know if going for a pedestal is the right way to grow volume."

Amstel Light Brand Manager Richard Byrne said the beer's soft sales had more to do with competition from fast-growing wine and spirits than Heineken Light, which he said was focused on getting domestic-light-beer drinkers to trade up.

Feminine option
The brewer also positioned Premium Light as a feminine option, as opposed to the more masculine, laid-back image Amstel for years enjoyed with its "Beer Drinker's Light Beer" tagline.

"Amstel Light is very much Caucasian, 35-plus in age and very high-income," Rene Hooft Graafland, Heineken's chief financial officer, told investors in a February conference call.

Amstel plans to deploy its estimated $15 million media budget more strategically to reach those core drinkers. It's tapped Chicago-based All Terrain to produce events around the country at golf courses, art galleries and other high-end venues. In a series of posh restaurant events, which kicked off in Cleveland last weekend, local chefs pair their dishes with Amstel Light.

"They really want to anchor Amstel in premium elements," said All Terrain Chief Marketing Officer Brook Jay. "By taking Amstel up to a new level, we can keep it discernible."
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