Picky venue selection, special glassware, high price points, and heritage- and taste-focused advertising have driven the rapid growth of the Belgian lager. Launched in the U. S. in 1999, Stella Artois posted sales of 1 million cases in 2002, according to Impact Databank. It hit that milestone quicker than any import in 20 years. It is expected to pass the 2 million mark this year.
The brains behind the brew is Bryan Semkuley, VP-marketing for Labatt USA. Labatt saw an opening as Heineken targeted a broader audience in recent years; for instance, hip-hop artist Jay-Z appeared in an ad.
"Some of our competitors chose to reposition themselves," says Mr. Semkuley, 42. "We saw an opportunity."
When Labatt debuted Stella Artois in New York in 1999, Mr. Semkuley says, it was picky about what venues it went into-"fine dining accounts, trendy Eurobars." "We were selective in who would get the brand," says Mr. Semkuley, a 20-year Labatt veteran who started while a student at the University of Calgary.
Labatt sells chalice-style glassware to vendors at cost, instructs bar staff on proper pouring techniques, and supports the beer with out-of-home and print advertising from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe. Tags, accompanying product shots, have included "Prized since 1366" and "Every drop is precious." Lowe's New York office does local adaptations on Labatt campaigns created in the agency's London office.