Brewers: Focus on specialty beer

On May 1, Toronto's Sante Fe Beverage, the specialty beer arm of Molson Breweries, will unveil a new marketing campaign for its growing portfolio of non-mainstream beer brands.Emil Simon, director of marketing for Sante Fe, says the campaign will mark a...

On May 1, Toronto’s Sante Fe Beverage, the specialty beer arm of Molson Breweries, will unveil a new marketing campaign for its growing portfolio of non-mainstream beer brands.

Emil Simon, director of marketing for Sante Fe, says the campaign will mark a major strategic shift for Sante Fe in that the advertising will focus almost exclusively on ‘rational, tangible brand benefits.’

Simon notes that in the past, Sante Fe, which manages more than a dozen brands of imported, micro/regionally-brewed and non-alcoholic beer, advertised its products in the mode of a mainstream beer marketer with image-oriented creative and scant attention to the distinguishing characteristics of the beer.

While declining to discuss advertising strategy behind specific brands, Simon does reveal that individual brands within the portfolio will be marketed on the basis of their taste, quality and country of origin.

Among the brands Sante Fe manages are Heineken, brewed by Heineken Brouwerijen of Holland, Corona, brewed by Modelo Breweries of Mexico, and Kirin, brewed by Kirin Brewing of Japan.

Simon says his marketing plan, which is being developed in conjunction with Vickers & Benson Advertising of Toronto and will have a budget of ‘several million dollars,’ calls for the creation of a Sante Fe brand umbrella, under which the individual beer brands will be positioned according to their attributes.

He likens the approach to the way Loblaw Companies created President’s Choice as an umbrella brand under which it markets a wide array of grocery products.

Interestingly, across town at rival Labatt International, the specialty beer arm of Labatt Breweries of Canada, a parallel campaign is being formulated that, like the Sante Fe campaign, will represent a departure from traditional, image-oriented beer advertising.

Labatt International was formed in 1990 with a mandate to develop export markets for Labatt and to become an importer and domestic distributor of international beers, wines and liqueurs.

Since its formation, the firm, which is headed by President Michael Conde, former president of Chateau-Gai Wines, has built an import portfolio of eight beers, nine wines and a liqueur.

Among the beer brands are Busch and Michelob, both brewed by Anheuser-Busch of the u.s., Castlemaine, brewed by Lion & Nathan of Australia, Guinness Stout, brewed Guinness of Ireland, and Tuborg, brewed by Carlsberg of Denmark.

Noting that his beer roster has now attained sufficient ‘critical mass’ to warrant consumer advertising, Conde says he is in the process of developing a strategy that should manifest itself in the marketplace later this year.

While he declines to discuss campaign specifics, Conde says the approach will be largely rational in nature, designed to ‘capture the flavor, if you like, of our various international beers.’

He says only limited media advertising – possibly print and outdoor – would be used, explaining ‘ours would be more of a niche-type of approach with brand promotions and merchandising.’

One non-mainstream strategy Labatt International is already pursuing is the use of non-traditional bottle sizes. Conde says this is an area it will continue in the future as it jostles with the competition for share of the specialty beer market.

Both Molson and Labatt say they have begun directing marketing resources at the specialty beer market because they view it as a potential growth area in an otherwise declining market.

Research suggests specialty beer drinkers tend to be largely male, better-educated, middle-to-upper income earners.

Simon says total non-mainstream beer sales in 1992 accounted for about 9% of the 200 million cases of 24 bottles sold overall.

And he estimates sales will increase to nearly 15% by 1997.