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Date: January 6, 2003
Title: Czechs and Belgians are the Most Pampered Beer Drinkers
Journalist: Filip Potulka
The price of beer must increase, so says the general manager of Prague Breweries.
The general manager of the countrys second largest brewery concern, Tony Desmet of Prague Breweries, has been replaced by Vincent Lefere last year in November. In turn, Desmet moved up within Interbrew, which owns Prague Breweries, to the position of vice president. Lefere, a 52 year old lawyer, studied law at a university in Belgian Lovani. However, he is not so drawn to justice and himself admits that he has always been more interested in business. He got on board at Interbrew in 1990, becoming the general manager of its Romanian branch some eight years later. Besides a wife and three sons, Lefere has many hobbies, some of which include classical literature, tennis and recreational running.
EURO: When Interbrew took over Prague Breweries, your predecessor had to overcome a crisis which the group had found itself in under the previous management of Bass. What are your goals?
LEFÉRE: After a complicated period, the situation has dramatically improved for the better. We restructured the groups basic capital, which we first reduced so we could later increase it by three billion CZK. Thanks to this, higher sales and a more productive output, we managed to reduce our losses in 2001 by almost 80% and, after last year, we should manage to get back into the black. Therefore, I see my goal, thanks also to the good foundation laid for me by my predecessor, to gradually increase revenues, increase our market share and inevitably our profits.
EURO: Prague Breweries presently maintains about a fourteen percent market share. What market share would you like to attain during your role here?
LEFÉRE: During 2001 we managed to increase our sales of Staropramen by eleven percent, where our other brands were doing well also. Thanks to higher sales, we increased our share of the market by more than one percent. We want to continue to grow, but I do not want to set a limit or figure to this growth.
EURO: Beer breweries here argue that the price of beer on this market is too low. Even so, breweries fear raising them dramatically. In December you announced a slight increase in your prices. Do you see more room for price increases in the near future?
LEFÉRE: Prices here are truly one of the lowest in Europe. I did not even see such low prices in my previous position in Rumania. From a long term point of view, these prices are not maintainable, especially if we compare them to relatively high sales at low profits. We are making substantial investments into our brands, for which reason it is understandable that the price of our beers must increase, considering they are not even keeping up with inflation. However, we do not want our customers to suffer any greater shocks, for which reason we intend to carefully consider any price changes and apply them gradually. Above all, we want to emphasise that any price increases will bring positive benefit also to our customers.
EURO: What benefit could people have from higher beer prices?
LEFÉRE: A more varied selection, better care in their treatment, and uninterrupted supervision on quality. What concerns the retail sector, we aim to make the consumers purchase as easy as possible, which is why we are developing our category management in order that it corresponds to the demands of those buying our products. To explain this in simpler terms, we offer our products at favourable prices and with direct sales support. As part of this strategy, we are cooperating with retailers to make their beer sections as transparent as possible. We want to avoid a situation where the consumer ends up buying something they dont really want. Even though we are only now developing this strategy, we are already working on category management projects not only with the main retail players on the market but also with gas station chains.
EURO: Can you tell me what are retailers main demands, what concerns category management? Hypermarkets probably have a different idea of categories then do gas stations.
LEFÉRE: Retail chains are usually more interested in a complete project of beer category management, such as the evaluation of a market research study, data analysis, or recommendations in strategic areas, such as product assortment, price policies, sales support, or presentation of goods in the store. On the other hand, gas stations are more interested in certain minor adjustments in the product offer or the presentation of our beer.
EURO: Very close cooperation in category management could be perceived as a certain degree of bribery, in order to position certain brands in the first isle.
LEFÉRE: It is certainly not like that at all. Category management is only one aspect of what makes a brand strong. We believe that such strong brands will find themselves in the first isle on their own. This is precisely why marketing support and strengthening the awareness of Staropramen, Branik and all the other beers offered by our brewery is so important to us. We do not want to support any sort of bribery of retail chains nor pubs and do not want to practice anything of the sort.
EURO: The Interbrew group likes to refer to itself as a world producer of local beers and it seems that it has found success with such support of local beers when it recently attained a higher output than did Heineken.
LEFÉRE: The support of local beers is the core of our strategy. We do not want the taste of our beers to be some international average. On the contrary, we do not aspire to change the tastes of local consumers. As soon as we penetrate any market, we immediately start working on building up a strong local brand. In some cases, such as with Staropramen or Branik, the brands already have a strong domestic footing on the market, in which case all we need to do is support it further. When it is not so strong, we must build it up from the bottom. From my short experience in this country [less than two months editors note], I have been told that Staropramen and our other brands sit well with consumers. I believe that Staropramen is one of the best beers which Interbrew has within its portfolio. We must simply respect the fact that Czechs make the best beer on the planet.
EURO: When you took over Prague Breweries from the Bass group, in light of the apparent long standing financial problems, did you consider Prague Breweries flagship beer of Staropramen as a strong brand?
LEFÉRE: Prague Breweries practically fell into our laps at a time when we were in the process of buying its owner Bass of England. Even so, we always considered Staropramen as a strong brand but which had, unfortunately, lost some of its credit for a few years prior to when we took it over. However, thanks to a massive campaign, we have managed to bring the brand back to its previous fame.
EURO: For Prague Breweries, Staropramen is the leader. This may be why last year it was speculated that Interbrew was aiming to get rid of Branik
LEFÉRE: We never intended anything of the sort and neither do we plan it. We consider our present structure of local brands as optimal.
EURO: It was also rumoured to say that Interbrew wanted to expand its brand portfolio in the Czech Republic.
LEFÉRE: We cannot exclude that possibility. After all, it is one of the ways we can increase our market share. If such an opportunity were to present itself to us, it would be a sin if we did not take advantage of it. However, we are not making preparations for anything of the sort at the moment.
EURO: With its more than three hundred thousand hectolitres annually, Prague Breweries is the third largest Czech exporter of beer. Do you intend on supporting exports further?
LEFÉRE: Our export policies are focused primarily on Staropramen. A new piece of information is that this beer is to become one of the six global premium beers in Interbrews portfolio, together with Becks, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe and Bass Ale. Moving this beer into the premium beer category should support its position on the main export markets of Germany, Slovakia, England, Sweden and Russia, and facilitate Prague Breweries expansion on other markets. For example, we are making preparations to start exporting Staropramen to Canada.
EURO: Do you intend on marketing Czech beers to Belgians as well?
LEFÉRE: No, not that. Belgium is in many ways very similar to the Czech Republic. Consumers do not trust foreign beers and, as Czechs, are exceedingly pampered with good beer. The most brands of any market in the world can be found in Belgium, and almost all of them are of domestic origin, for which reason it is very difficult to introduce anything else.
EURO: Even though some are heard to say that the Staropramen advertising campaign depicts Czechs, primarily men, as passive consumers, one cannot dispute the success of the commercials. Do you plan on applying a similar campaign in other countries/? For example, might not the beer training camps catch on also in Rumania?
LEFÉRE: That is an interesting thought. We are trying to maximally apply the synergetic effects which can come out of a large expansion of Interbrew. This is why it is possible that some concepts which work in one country we will apply in another. But what concerns the beer training camps, of whose success I was truly surprised, I am not certain whether this concept can be applied elsewhere. And what concerns the pessimistic view that our campaign is degrading the consumer to a mere beer drinker, I simply refer those people to the success of the campaign.
EURO: Czechs and Belgians are considered beer connoisseurs. Why do you think that there exists a definite beer cult in these countries?
LEFÉRE: Both nations love beer, although each of them in their own manner. The typical Belgian beer drinker differs from their Czech counterpart. For example, the specialty beers play a much more important role in Belgium than they do here. In some of the larger Belgium cities, consumers can pick out from more than six hundred types of beer, where Czech beer drinkers most often prefer the Pilsner type lager. This is one of the reasons why we include Belgian specialty beers in some of our brand chain pubs, such as the Potrefena Husa.
EURO: The average Belgian drinks ninety litres of beer annually, where their Czech counterpart around one hundred and sixty litres. How much does the Belgian director of Prague Breweries drink annually?
LEFÉRE: I fear that I might be a bit above the average Czech to this degree, as I drink on average from one to three beers a day.
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Date: January 15, 2003
Title: New Owner of Miller Brewing to Replace General Manager
The new owner of American brewery Miller Brewing Co. is to replace its existing general manager and president, John Bowlin, so reported Millers press spokesman at a press meeting today. The brewery is the second largest brewery concern in the US and Bowlin is supposed to step down at the end of this month. In place of him will be Norman Adami, the executive board chairman and director of South African Breweries. In return, his position in South African Breweries will be taken by Today van Kralingen, the highest director of SABMillers division in the Czech Republic. Analysts are not surprised to learn of the personnel changes at the helm of the American group, although they are not certain how successful the company will be under Adami. Some analysts estimate that Adami could help the companys distribution system. Bowlin has been at the helm of Miller since April of 1999 and his departure follows a change in the companys ownership last year in July, when the American group was sold by Philip Morris Cos. for an amount of 3.6 billion USD to South African Breweries PLC, which is based out of London. This deal created the second largest brewery concern in the world, following Anheuser-Busch Cos. The new company adopted the name SABMiller, which also controls the Czech number one brewery concern of Pilsner Prazdroj. Millers market share continues to decline. According to Beer Marketer's Insights, which monitors the beer market, Miller had a market share in the US last year of 19%, down from its previous years share of 19.6%. On the other hand, Anheuser-Buschs share increased last year to 48.9% from 48.5% the year before. Revenues in the industry increased last year by 1 to 1.5%, this while Millers revenues decreased by two to three percentage points, so reported AP.
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Date: November 4, 2003
Title: The EU Ended Cartel Investigations of Carlsberg and Heineken without Result
The European commission concluded without results its investigations concerning its suspicions of cartel agreements made between Danish brewery Carlsberg and Dutch brewery group Heineken. The executive arm of the EU today announced that it had not found evidence proving that an agreement had been made between the two companies dating back as far as 1995. The commission blamed both brewery concerns of coming to an agreement between each other and stipulating that they will not try to penetrate each others markets, an agreement which was allegedly to apply between the years of 1993 and 1996. But the commission could not find evidence to such an agreement after May of 1995. EU rules give the commission power to impose fines on companies found guilty of signing cartel agreements and which they were proven to have fulfilled to the latest five years prior to commencement of the investigations. In this case, the investigations had started in the year 2000. Both of the companies sent statements to the commission denying any agreements made concerning division of the market or any other form of cooperation. In August, the commission stormed the companies headquarters, but did not manage to find any evidence of such agreements following 1995.
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