A case study – Beer market – 10 years ago

Introduction

The Carlsberg brand has been present in Vietnam since 1993, with the setting up of the South East Asian Breweries in Hanoi. The brewery has been producing its flagship Carlsberg brand, as well as developing a local brand, Halida.

Regionality of the Vietnamese Beer Market

Like many product categories in Vietnam the beer market does vary strongly from north to south. Whereas drinkers tend to be ‘bingers’ in the south (consume maybe only once or twice per week but in large quantities) northern consumers tend to be ‘tipplers’ (consume small quantities but  on a daily basis).

 

This is also reflected in brand usage with the preponderance of local brands in the mainstream segment (bia Hanoi in the north and bia Saigon in the south). Within the premium segment there is greater adoption of the more aspirational Heineken in the north, whereas Tiger, in addition to Heineken,  has a strong franchise in the south.

 

However overall Ho Chi Minh City has a much greater sales volume (approx. 70/30).

 

The Premium Beer Market

The premium beer market in Vietnam is primarily a repertoire market with consumers changing their brand depending on occasion and  location. The Carlsberg brand competes with Heineken and Tiger beer, both owned by  Vietnam Breweries Limited (VBL). These two brands effectively dominate the premium segment, partly due to their long presence in the market, and also due to their consistently high levels of marketing effort and spend.

 

Whereas Heineken is positioned as international, for businessmen, classy and  successful, Tiger is positioned as an international Asian brand and takes on a more masculine brand personality. Heineken has been  positioned as more premium than Tiger, warranting a higher pricing level. However a key issue for VBL has been how to avoid cannibalising its two key brands. There are now strong indications in the market that Tiger is acting more as a feeder brand for Heineken in the south, whereas consumers are by-passing Tiger completely in the north. This weakening of the Tiger franchise may represent an opportunity for Carlsberg.

 

Heineken, despite its brand strength,  has been attempting more recently to try to shed its more aloof, stuffy image by introducing elements of humour and ‘twentysomething’ into its communication.

 

Carlsberg, however, has been struggling to gain share from these two dominant players, along with Foster’s and San Miguel. Carlsberg has gained significant levels of trial, especially in Hanoi, but has struggled to convert this into repeat purchasing. This is mainly driven by its unclear brand identity; although consumers have an idea that it is European, premium and brings

European football to them, this positioning has not been communicated strongly enough  and has not been strong enough to gain regular brand usage.

 

Foster’s has also suffered, partly due to its later entry into the market, but also due to its struggle to communicate the relevance of the brands core positioning of ‘Australianism’. More recently the brand has surrounded itself with a sense of  slapstick humour, but this in itself seems unlikely to lift the brand into the consumer repertoire.

 

San Miguel on the other hand has adopted a different approach. It has recognised that it is unlikely to have the resources to tackle Heineken and Tiger head on; thus it has adopted a niche market position, for consumers who are independent and looking for a brand with something different. Exactly what they are looking for which is different has not yet been communicated but, nevertheless, it represents an interesting and different approach to the beer market.

The key driver for beer consumption inn Vietnam is to engender a sense of companionship with others. All beer brands (with the noticeable exception of the recent re-positioning of San Miguel) communicate a sense of sharing with others, this may be more a social occasion, in the case of Tiger, or more a sense of business facilitation, in the case of Heineken.

Carlsberg’s Task

Carlsberg must recognise its main task is to gain a foothold in the premium beer drinker’s repertoire. At present most consumption is driven by ‘push’ factors from promotion girls. In fact these may well create a negative impression for the brand since it is a brand being ‘forced’ upon them. The key is to encourage consumers to revisit the brand (by inducing re-trial) and thus get the brand into the repertoire.

 

There is no clear evidence that Carlsberg has a negative brand image, but more that the brand needs to explore what the core brand essence consists of, and how this can be exploited to create strong, relevant and unique brand associations.

 

This document outlines a research roadmap to develop the Carlsberg brand along the above guidelines in Vietnam.

 

The question is “Is there any question coming up to your mind on this case?”

 

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