By Tim Addington
Dutch brewing giant Heineken has set up a dedicated sales and marketing operation in the Middle East in an effort to claw back market share for its range of beers. Heineken also wants to make the category “more relevant” to younger drinkers.
Dutch brewing giant Heineken has set up a dedicated sales and marketing operation in the Middle East in an effort to claw back market share for its range of beers.Heineken also wants to make the category “more relevant” to younger drinkers.
The company, called Sirocco, has split from drinks distributor MMI, and is charged with promoting Heineken, Amstel, Amstel Light, Tiger and Kronenbourg. It has also taken on the marketing responsibilities for Budweiser in the region.
In the last 13 years Heineken has seen its market share tumble from 70% to 42% in the UAE as other brands were introduced and new types of beverages, such as energy drinks, emerged.
Alcohol consumption accounts for just one per cent of the total drinks market in the Middle East and is predicted to be worth US$250 million in the UAE next year.
“There was clearly a need for Heineken to bolster its presence and introduce evolved concepts of category management and brand communication,” said Sandeep Walunj, head of marketing at Sirocco. “One of the reasons why we lost market share and the category didn’t grow was because, over a period of time, beer became associated with older drinkers.”
Marketing alcohol in the Middle East is governed by strict rules and brands face restrictions on how they can advertise their products across all media, forcing them to come up with innovate ways to sell their products.
“The most obvious challenge is lack of access to the media,” said Walunj.
“But that can also be turned into an opportunity. We are trying to use below the line advertising as if it were above the line advertising. We are restricted to advertising in places where alcohol is served, but that is fine — we get to talk to our consumers in an environment where they are already open to alcohol.”
Last week Sirocco embarked on its first major product launch with the introduction of Heineken Sub Zero, which is backed by a US$100,000 development and marketing campaign.
The beer, which will be served below zero degrees and comes in 250 millilitre bottles, is targeted at entry-level consumers who find the bitterness of beer off-putting.
Walunj also said that the company was looking to develop an “Arab regional brand” of beer. “In Dubai in particular, tourism is really booming and one of the basic inclinations of a tourist is to go for a beer of the land when they visit. Obviously we don’t have a beer of the land, but we could have something from Lebanon or Egypt, which could be associated with the entire region,” he said.
Sirocco is also looking at entering the non-alcoholic drinks category, which is more in keeping with the region.