We recently caught up with Bernardo Spielmann, Global Brand Director of Amstel to discuss a move into China – where twice as much beer is consumed as is in the US, and more than five times that of Germany, the largest beer market in the EU.
The 150-year-old brand is a part of Heineken, which has been a major player in the Chinese market for years. Over the course of our conversation, Speilman discusses why the timing is right for Amstel to make the big move and how the pandemic has changed their marketing strategy.
We also dive into some of Amstel’s more notable campaigns as well as the beer industry in general and how industry giants adapt to a changing market.
Amstel is launching in China after 150 years since the brand’s founding. What drove the decision to make the move now?
The 150th anniversary of the Amstel brand is something we are very proud of and is the perfect opportunity for us to expand and launch in a new and exciting market.
Given Amstel’s high growth rate, it is a natural progression for us to launch into the world’s largest beer market, China. A key factor that contributed to this decision is our strategic partnership with China Resources Beer established in 2019, which now offers a strong route to market to ensure the successful rollout of the brand there. Together with CRB, we are positioning Amstel as a lead beer within the accessible premium category. We are confident the brand will succeed due to the growing rate of Chinese consumer demand for beers in this category.
What are some dynamics unique to consumers in China that factor into your market entrance strategy? When gaming out entry into China’s massive market, were there any trends that particularly stood out to you and your team?
Heineken has been operating in the Chinese beer market for years and that combined with our strategic partnership with Chinese Resource Beer has allowed us to gain valuable experience and consumer insights that we have built into our market strategy. Within the Chinese market, we are seeing a shift where consumers want premium products. Amstel‘s position is perfect for this market thanks to our European heritage and unique brewing credentials.
We continue to see a growing trend for accessible premium beers from Chinese consumers, especially the ones with great ingredients and a smooth taste. That is why we fine-tuned our recipe to match the more ‘sessionable’ beer profile, which is preferred in the country while keeping the 100% malt base which makes it so special and different within the segment.
“We believe the Chinese market will respond well to the launch and predict China to be one of Amstel’s biggest markets within the next three years.”
There are also valuable learnings related to how consumers engage with social channels that are unique to China and the very advanced e.commerce landscape, which will be at the core of our launch campaign.
We believe the Chinese market will respond well to the launch and predict China to be one of Amstel’s biggest markets within the next three years.
Are there any specific campaigns or strategies you intend to roll out to go along with your launch?
Our communications will celebrate our European origin and friendship values we are founded upon while reinforcing our brewing credentials. We will also have a strong plan of activations that bring to life the unique spirit of Amsterdam and encourage trial of our 100% pure malt beer. Look forward to sharing more news with you soon!
As far as the brand overall, how has the pandemic affected global branding strategy?
The pandemic has certainly meant we have had to relook at our timings and strategy. Like many people, we have also had to work virtually with our teams and agencies to bring this launch to life. Luckily, we have a very talented team and partners based in China, which have endured the challenges and offered great guidance to ensure a very impactful launch.
“The pandemic has certainly meant we have had to relook at our timings and strategy. Like many people, we have also had to work virtually with our teams and agencies to bring this launch to life.”
As we have over the last 150 years, we continue to evolve and perfect our brand. It is 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.
In recent years we’ve seen a number of trends in the beer industry, perhaps most notably the rise of the global craft beer scene. Talk about the effect this has had on giants like Heineken?
We are so pleased with the growing interest in beer. Heineken continues to have a large portfolio, including a variety of craft products.
With Amstel, we adapt to meet local preferences, just like with our launch in China, where we’ve adjusted the recipe to deliver the smooth taste Chinese drinkers prefer while focusing on better quality ingredients. The beer will be brewed using 100% pure malt to deliver the perfect balance of pilsner taste and refreshment. This focus on pure malt is unique within the accessible premium segment, 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.
You have been with the company for more than 15 years. Are there any campaigns over the years that you are particularly proud of?
Amstel has had some notable campaigns to date. A few worth highlighting would have to be our “World’s Smallest Bar” campaign.
Our beer began by two friends 150 years ago in Amsterdam and named after the river Amstel. The campaign stands out for me as it perfectly aligns with everything we are about at Amstel – great taste, friendship, and our Dutch heritage.
The campaign begins in a small bar in central Amsterdam full with chairs and can host a few people, but once every few years when the canals freeze over the bar turns from the smallest to the biggest, as the owner takes his customers onto the frozen canal to connect with each other over an Amstel. It is a great campaign, perfectly aligned to our brand values.
Another great example is the “Bridges on Bridges” campaign, which highlights how Amstel has always been the perfect beer for celebrating people coming together.