Amstel embarks on ambitious China launch by adapting to local tastes

We catch up with Amstel‘s global brand director to hear how he sees China becoming the Dutch beer‘s third biggest market, despite having only just launched there.

China is the world’s biggest beer market, but 150-year-old Amstel has waited until now to launch into the country, choosing a strategy of adapting to local tastes.

The Heineken-owned beer brand hopes its long history and European roots place it into the premium market in China, though it plans to adapt its taste to a more ‘sessionable’, smooth flavour, which Chinese beer drinkers prefer.

Bernardo Spielmann, global brand director for Amstel at Heineken, says Heineken has built up experience of launching brands into the China market and will be using these lessons to inform the Amstel launch.

Every market launch is unique with specific consumer insights and trends that we follow to help us succeed, and China has been no different. Heineken has been operating in the Chinese beer market for years and that experience, combined with our strategic partnership with Chinese Resource Beer, has allowed us to gain valuable knowledge and insights that we have built into our market strategy. Within the Chinese market, we are seeing a shift towards consumers demanding premium products. Amstel‘s position is perfect for this market thanks to our European heritage and unique brewing credentials.”

Spielmann also explains the decision for a recipe adaptation, though the core ingredient of malt has remained. “We continue to see a growing trend for accessible premium beers from Chinese consumers, especially the ones with great ingredients and 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 that makes it so special and different within the segment.”

Heineken has announced the launch but has not yet released details of the launch campaign, with more activity likely to start appearing as the Chinese festive season kicks off early next year.

However, Spielmann does say that digital will form a large part of the first campaign activity: “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.”

The timing of the launch is intentionally alongside the brand’s 150th birthday, though Spielmann says the impact of Covid-19 has meant some delays and changes to the way the company would normally plan launches alongside its partners.

“With Covid-19 this year, we had to re-look 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.”

Complications aside, the brand hasn’t changed its ambition, which is that it foresees China becoming the third biggest market for the Amstel brand globally.

“Our aim is for China to be one of Amstel’s biggest markets within the next three years. We believe this is achievable given our strategy to deliver a beer that meets the premiumization trends in China, but that also has a strong European brand identity with values that Chinese consumers will be able to relate to.”

The initial launch will focus on certain provinces in China, while a wider push will be planned for later.

“We plan to follow this launch announcement with a 360° marketing campaign that embodies the identity of the brand – 150 years of friendship. From a supply point of view, our plan is to focus on select provinces with our initial launch while preparing for an optimal roll-out more widely across China in 2021.”

With Amstel’s recipe localised, the brand is one step closer to its ambitious growth targets. It will be its big campaign push next year, however, that will be the engine driving it to become the third-biggest market for the brand.