Amstel's global brand director believes a combination of heritage and quality ingredients will help it compete in highly-competitive China, as he prepares to launch the beer brand in the market for the first time.
The pilsner, owned by Netherlands-based Heineken, first began hitting shelves in select provinces across Southern and Eastern China in November this year, with a wider rollout planned for 2021.
Ahead of a marketing push, Campaign Asia-Pacific spoke with Bernardo Spielmann, the global brand director of Amstel at Heineken, to find out why the brand decided now was the right time to launch in the world's biggest beer market by sales.
Heineken, which is the world's second-biggest brewer, has ambitious goals for Amstel. The brewer expects China to become one of Amstel’s top markets globally within three years. But China is a highly-competitive market with strong local brands (China's Snow Beer and Tsingtao are the top two selling beer brands in the world) and global brands like Budweiser and Carslberg.
Spielmann believes it is Amstel's heritage that will differentiate it from competitors. The beer brand has marked its 150th anniversary this year, commemorating the occasion with limited-edition packaging, and anniversary-themed out-of-home and digital advertising.
"With time comes experience and thanks to the past 150 years we continue to evolve and perfect our brand. It’s amazing to see how far we have come and stood the test of time, from the canals of Amsterdam, to 116 markets around the world where Amstel is enjoyed by millions of people."
"The 150th anniversary of the Amstel brand is something we’re very proud of and is the perfect opportunity for us to expand and launch in a new and exciting market," Spielmann added.
Soon-to-launch marketing campaigns will focus on "celebrating Amstel's European origin and the friendship values we are founded upon, while reinforcing our brewing credentials". Spielmann would not be drawn on details on Amstel's marketing plan, he simply said the launch campaign is aimed at driving awareness, consideration and trial with consumers.
"We have worked closely with our local team and agencies to develop an unique visual identity, the pure malt recipe and culturally-relevant campaigns which have scored very well in research and testing," he said.
The timing of the Amstel launch has also been informed by the formalising of an alliance between Heineken and China Resources Beer, which has an agreement to sell Heineken products exclusively in China. In 2019, Heineken purchased a 40% stake in China Resources' parent company for HK$24.3 billion (US$3.1 billion).
Amstel will be tailored to the Chinese market. An adjusted recipe using 100% pure malt aims to deliver "the smooth taste Chinese drinkers prefer, while focusing on better quality ingredients", Spielmann explained.
"The focus on pure malt is quite unique within the accessible premium segment," said Spielmann. "Although it does have higher production costs, we truly believe it helps Amstel deliver a great quality beer which stays true to our European heritage and ethos that we have built over the last 150 years."
Spielmann added that there is a growing demand for 'accessible premium' beers in China with "better ingredients and unique brewing credentials".
Amstel will become Heineken's fourth beer brand in China, joining Heineken, Tiger and Sol.