Launching Heineken in Kerala – Interview with Joe Alapatt

AlapattUnited Breweries in partnership with the Alapatt Group launched Heineken beer in Kerala in July 2013. In an email interview with The Kochi Post, Joe Alapatt, Managing partner at Alapatt Group, shared with us on what it takes to introduce an international beer brand in Kerala.

About the Heineken brand and why Malayali beer drinkers should choose Heineken

Heineken is the most popular beer from Netherlands and is the best selling premium beer in the world. Heineken International is the third largest brewer in the world after Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller. Heineken is sold in more than 170 countries and more than 350 million cases are sold annually. India is the 48th country to brew Heineken. In the year 2010 it was decided that Heineken will be brewed and marketed by United Breweries Ltd., for the Indian market. UBL Brewery at Taloja near Mumbai now meets all the necessary specifications to brew Heineken. The water treatment plant, packaging equipment, malted barley, hops, yeast and even the bottles are imported from Netherlands to ensure that the Heineken’s sold in India meets the company’s high global standards.

The response from the Kerala market has been fantastic. Malayali beer drinkers have welcomed Heineken well because a good section of the Kerala beer drinking market are well traveled and are aware of the latest developments in terms of culture, technology and products. An affluent Malayali considers himself at par with the best in the world and has the buying power to afford the best.  The target audience is smart, intelligent, resourceful, confident and knows the good from the average and Heineken is his/her preferred beer.

Challenges in launching Heineken in Kerala 

Heineken was launched in Kerala in the month of July.  The initial challenge was to obtain the label approval, brand registration and to feature in the KSBC official Price List which were accomplished by submitting the Tender when called by the State owned KSBC in time.  The second challenge was to launch in a very novel way. Finally it was decided that Heineken will be launched INDIVIDUALLY at every mid-high level Property/Hotel/Restaurants/Club in Kerala. It was decided to launch the beer this way instead of one big-launch with only a few invitees in-order to tap into the aspirational mid-level beer drinking market that represents a majority of the beer drinkers in Kerala.  With a portable backdrop of Heineken, UBL Executives presented a bottle of Heineken gift wrapped with a Heineken beer glass to the owner/GM of the property. The owner/GM then opened the beer in front of the crowd and then traditional Kerala festivities followed.

Objective of Alappatt Group on the Heineken launch

Alapatt Brothers, one of the oldest company’s under the Alapatt Group, is a pioneer in the alcohol, beer and wine distribution in Kerala. Alapatt Group has decades of association with the UB Group and we are extremely proud to promote Heineken in Kerala.  The key objective is to establish Heineken as the super-premium international beer brand in the state.

Distribution channels

The distribution of Heineken is prioritized to where the target audience shops for beer.  Hence the channel and outlet selection along with the depth of distribution is closely monitored and controlled to complement the brand’s image and ensure “always fresh” stocks.  The off premise channels are A-Category KSBC (Kerala State Benerage Corporation) Shops, Premium a/c self counter KSBC stores, A-Category ConsumerFed stores.  The on-premise outlets include 3-5 Star Hotels, Premium clubs, Premium Beer/Wine Parlours, Premium KTDC hotels and the like.  The campaign by Alapatt Group envisage awareness of Heineken, positioning (Open your world), encourage trials aided by a mix of POP, visibility, digital and the like.

State of Kerala’s beer market

Kerala beer market is quite different from many other states in India since it has a preference for Strong Beers. If you look at the market share, just one beer (Kingfisher Strong), which is also managed by Alapatt Group, has an average market share of 50% in the Kerala market. And if you look at the top selling beers in Kerala, most of them belong to the strong category, such as Haywards 5000, Tuborg Strong etc.

Heineken wont be competing with the strong beer category. Our focus is to make the the premium and lager beer drinkers switch to Heineken.

Availability of Heineken 

So far Heineken is available in the following locations:  Nedumangad, Attingal, Balaramapuram, Kollam, Kottayam, Cochin, Alwaye, Thrissur, Palakkad, Perinthalmanna and Kozhikkode.  We will soon expand the beers presence and in a few months Heineken will be available throughout the state. The initial response is very encouraging and the brand is poised to reach a wider audience soon.
Future Heineken campaigns
We need to make sure Heineken is present everywhere and people are familiar with the brand, which is the first phase that is going on now. Once this is done, the focus will shift to driving engagement to strengthen the brand and to encourage repeat purchases. In order to do so, UBL has proposed to introduce Music platform in the second phase.  The marketing plan attempts to work across all touch points to create a faithful and meaningful engagement with the brand and to create a set of followers and brand ambassadors in Kerala.

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