Beer giant steals a march on competitors with tech and innovation following Thieves success
Heineken's recently appointed marketing director Radina Shkutova explains to John McGee why competition is good
With a stable of beer brands that includes Heineken, Murphy's Irish Stout, Beamish, Orchard Thieves, Tiger, Coors Light and Desperados, Radina Shkutova may well have one of the best marketing jobs in Ireland.
Having recently taken over as marketing director of Heineken Ireland from Sharon Walsh, she joins the company at a time of increased competition from parvenu brewers in the craft sector and impending legislation aimed at curbing alcohol abuse in Ireland.
You are still relatively new to the Irish market, tell me a little about your background.
"My experience is both on the brand and agency side, having started my career in account management with Publicis MARC Advertising in Bulgaria. I joined Heineken Ireland from the Heineken Zagorka Brewery in Bulgaria, where I started in 2005 as junior brand manager on Heineken. Over the years, I had different roles within marketing, being responsible for Heineken, our international brands, as well as our local strategic brands.
"In 2013, I became the marketing director, responsible for the full brand portfolio. With my team, we delivered significant business growth, building a strong and diverse portfolio, driving outstanding innovations and achieving the leading position in the premium segment. This included shaping the cider category with the introduction of Strongbow in 2015, followed by the introduction of Apple Thief cider in 2016 (based on Heineken Orchard Thieves), achieving 25pc market share. We were also awarded 'Advertiser of the Year' in Bulgaria in both 2014 and 2016.
"I will bring my previous experience (to Ireland), as well as being open to learning a lot from my new colleagues. I am very excited to be working with such a talented team and our extended agency partners to drive innovative initiatives for the Heineken portfolio."
How different is the Irish market other European markets?
"I would say that Ireland is quite a different and unique market in Europe. The on-trade channel in Ireland is significant - unlike most other European countries, where the off-trade sector is the leading channel. Here, global and international brands such as Heineken are the big players in the market, while all over Europe the majority of the big players are local brands. This gives us significant freedom in terms of brand positioning and innovation. In addition, cider in Ireland is a big and well-established category, while in most markets cider has just started emerging as a category. "
How different is the regulatory regime to other markets?
"Ireland has one of the strictest self-regulatory codes in Europe and we have huge respect for the marketing codes and rules and have successfully managed to adapt global strategies to local markets and translate our brand communications respectfully.
"But we don't just abide by the code, we live by the spirit of the code and I was surprised at how far the draft Public Health (Alcohol) Bill appears to be going. It's too early to predict how this will play out, but given the importance that the role of advertising plays in new product development and innovation and the respect we have for existing codes, I hope that all parties will continue to work together to ensure that responsible drinking is at the forefront of consumers' minds."
Increasingly global brewers are having to innovate more. Why is this and where does innovation sit with Heineken?
"Innovation has always been core to what we are and what we stand for. Our Murphy's Brewery in Cork celebrated 160 years last year and without an innovation mind-set, such success would not have been possible. It is in our DNA. The constantly changing and evolving consumer needs, along with changes in lifestyle choices, drives us to increase the speed of our innovation by developing new and exciting brands such as Orchard Thieves and Cute Hoor. So, I think that the culture of innovation within Heineken Ireland plays a huge part of our company's consistent success in bringing new brands and experiences to our customers."
Orchard Thieves, in particular, has been a success - why is this?
"Within two years, Orchard Thieves has shaken up the category to thieve a considerable share of the market. The brand, and its success, represents everything about how Heineken behaves. For Orchard Thieves, our approach to marketing and innovation was fundamentally different to how we traditionally did things.
"The success of the brand since launch has liberated us to continue to use brave, bold, innovative, tech-focused, data-centric marketing strategies that influence how we will continue to drive it - and other brands in our portfolio. Orchard Thieves has significantly influenced the future of marketing and innovations across Heineken globally.
What does the rise of craft brewing tells us about consumers and their choices?
"It has been very good for the entire beer and cider category. It has increased people's interest in and knowledge of beer and cider. Craft trends are similar within Europe and the US - people are talking about and engaging with beer in a whole new way, which is great for the entire category. The opportunity, when this happens, is to deliver exceptional products and brand experiences that excite consumers."
Sunday Indo Business