Heineken Heineken UK MD Rob Marijnen speaks cheerfully about the performance of the new premium Heineken last year. "If we take into account that we started from scratch, and getting into on-trade outlets is very time consuming, the results are very pleasing," he said. Heineken took a leap into the unknown in February 2003 with the launch of 5% abv Heineken, replacing the standard Cold Filtered and Export. At the time, the Dutch giant said the move was a "direct response to the growing consumer demand for high-quality continental-strength lagers in the UK". One year on, Marijnen says the results have been "way ahead of expectations". It is the sixth or seventh-biggest premium draught lager overall, with about 4% of the market, still way behind the likes of Stella and Kronenbourg. But with the second-highest rate of sale in managed houses, Heineken has reason to be optimistic. Marijnen says drinkers tend to try new brands out of curiosity, meaning initial sales are always good. But he adds: "The good thing for us is that when people try it they tend to come back to it, therefore there is no drop-off in sales." Heineken differentiates itself from other premium brands by being presented in an illuminated stainless steel font that incorporates a glass rinser. This ensures Heineken is not served in a warm glass straight from the dishwasher. Diageo has supplied the new equipment and fonts. "It is a very eye-catching font that gives brand visibility. The least we can do if we want the brand to succeed is to create a stylish font." He added that Heineken sells well at a premium price, allowing retailers to demand around 5% more than for other premium lagers. Last year Heineken invested £24m marketing the premium brand, spearheaded by a £7m ad campaign featuring different European countries showing their love for the brand in their different ways. But Marijnen admits they still have some way to go to communicate what has changed. "If you look at market-research data, people are aware of the fact that things have changed, but not a lot of people realise exactly how. The packaging will be more explicit in the new rounds of adverts around March." Heineken plans to strike a careful balance with its sports activities this year. Its focus is sponsorship of the British Olympic team and English rugby, rather than Euro 2004, which would set it up against the bigger players. Cold Filtered and Export may now seem a distant memory, but Heineken keeps its place in the standard lager category with Amstel, its 4.1% abv "super standard" brand, imported from Holland. The aim of super standard is to bridge the gap between premium lagers and the traditional standard brands. "People see extra value in imported standard lager," says Marijnen. Amstel has gained listings with a number of smaller outlets, and most recently in All Bar One. The brand has also benefited from its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League. Marijnen predicts a rosy 2004 for the overall lager market. "We have no reason to believe this will be different from the last. If you look at the overall beer market there will be a continuation of the drop in bitter and stout compared to lager.