INSIGHTS visited revamped Heineken USA hq yesterday, met with prexy Ronald den Elzen and got briefed on its new Amstel XLight by Ronald and sr brand director Michael Schwartz. HUSA launched Amstel XLight in state of Tex, Ariz and city of Boston on Mar 1 (INSIGHTS first reported HUSA would test Amstel XLight last fall). Unlike more expensive Corona Premier, Amstel XLight goes head-to-head with Ultra on price and seeks placement right next to Ultra on shelf. It has fewer calories and carbs (90 calories, 2 carbs), but same ABV as Mich Ultra (4.2%). This is a “controlled rollout,” emphasized Ronald, looking for a “high rate of sale” and then to “slowly” expand. While first mo depletions “excellent,” HUSA intent on building rate of sale, using “very different model,” in part learned from Lagunitas, of expanding brand more gradually in select geographies. XLight replaces Amstel Light in Tex and Ariz, but sold side-by-side in Boston, so Boston a different kind of test. Launch eighteen mos in making, driven by consumer insights from 100K households where HUSA sees actual cash register receipts. “Wellness” a really big deal for consumers who like Ultra.
HUSA overhauled its hq in White Plains, remaking the offices into a much more open, collaborative, and welcoming space. Sr top mgt all sit together in open settiing, like at ABI and many other cos. There is big co bar, right at entrance; elsewhere a coffee shop, ping-pong table, etc. The 250 people housed there now include about 50 mktg folks formerly in NYC as well as its new Five Points subsidiary, which sells smaller Heineken-owned brands like Red Stripe, Tiger, Murphy’s, Moretti and Affligem. Glassdoor, frequently a forum for critical comments about cos, just voted HUSA hq as one of top “phenomenal” office spaces “hiring now.”
While total HUSA #s down slightly in scan, brand Heineken has firmed up. Heineken up 3.3% yr-to-date thru Mar 18 in Nielsen all-outlet, even tho HUSA down 1.6%. HUSA “encouraged” by Heineken trends, but still early days. Bad weather in Calif (20% of HUSA volume, much bigger % of Tecate volume) reportedly hurt trends. Another cut of Nielsen data from Morgan Stanley showed Tecate brand down double digits for 12 weeks thru Mar 11, while Tecate Light had slowed to 9% growth. Strongbow has also turned from plus to minus. Down 7% YTD in Nielsen. Heineken brand still nearly half of HUSA volume and any meaningful improvement in its trend could make sizable difference for HUSA.