There is method in…Stella’s cider push

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With the launch of Stella Cidre, AB Inbev has set itself an ambitious twin task – “restimulating” the premium cider category and adding weight to its own claim to be the beer sectors’ most innovative company.

The brewer wants Cidre, which is intended to be pronounced as it sounds and is described as a “premium crafted Belgian cider”, to quicken growth in a category that is already accelerating at a rate of about 7% a year according to most estimates.

Unveiling the drink in London this week, Stuart Macfarlane, president of AB Inbev in the UK, adds that the “premium, quality, crafted and heritage” attributes that the Stella brand is perceived to have can add more value to the premium cider category than the current market leaders – Magners and Bulmers – have or will manage.

The reason for such bullishness? Apart from an unwavering belief in the strength of the Stella brand, the brewer has spent 18 months researching consumers’ appetite for a new cider brand under the Stella moniker.

“Consumers want it, accept it and say it will enhance the category”, says James Watson, Western European marketing director for the brand.

He adds: “We know it will be popular and we are convinced that the category will grow”.

Watson and Macfarlane’s confidence is not just based on focus group feedback. Stella Cidre is the fifth new product extension from the brewer, and the third for Stella, in last two years, following Stella Artois 4%, Stella Black, Beck’s Vier and Bud 66.

The company claims that Stella’s 4% variant has been “the most successful alcohol launch in the last ten years” and it has also made positive noises about the initial success of the other extensions. A solid platform, it believes, from which to launch a cider brand.

Such innovations, Watson continues, put the company ahead of its peers as an innovator akin to FMCG behemoths Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

“We have learned from their [FMCG companies] commitment to innovation”, he says, adding that it will continue to look for new opportunities to “rejuvenate” categories beyond the April launch of Stella Cidre.

A “double digit” million pound marketing campaign will back the launch and run until early summer. The brewer is remaining tight-lipped about specific plans but Watson adds that activity will continue to leverage the power of the Stella brand by using the “she’s a thing of beauty” strapline shared by the rest of the Stella parent brand and its extensions. It is also likely that the 60s retro theme used across the portfolio will be adopted for the Cidre campaign.

The brewer’s ebullience over the prospects for Cidre is the product of excitement about entering a growing category and the recent success of others in the “pour over ice” premium cider category – market leader Magners has recently reversed an eighteen month decline to post some impressive sales increases. It is also stems from an unerring faith in the ability of the Stella brand, itself on the up following a flat few years last decade, to sprinkle star dust over any category it enters.

It is also a move born out of the necessity to innovate in a declining beer market. AB Inbev, as all other brewers that have built their business on selling beer will, has realised that product and category development is the only option available.

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