Spanish star set to shine

By Claire Dodd Claire

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer Estrella damm

Grupo Damm, brewer of Estrella Damm, beer of Barcelona, is terrifyingly slick. Maybe it's something to do with the exotic novelty of meeting Enric...

Grupo Damm, brewer of Estrella Damm, beer of Barcelona, is terrifyingly slick. Maybe it's something to do with the exotic novelty of meeting Enric Crous, its general manager, in Spain rather than drizzly London.

Barcelona is undoubtedly cool, with stylish bars and citizens who stomp sour-faced down the pavement, chain-smoking, while somehow managing to look very cool.

But I say terrifying for two reasons. First, this is a brewery run by a man who completed a marathon in three-and-a-half hours, aged 65.

And second, as part of its €240m brewery expansion, its bottling warehouse is now populated with driverless, robot forklifts powered by lasers. See what I mean?

As big as it is in Spain, Damm's 4.6 per cent premium pale lager has not yet had a massive impact in the UK.

Great expectations

Launched here in March 2007 under its first UK importer Anheuser-Busch (AB), it has been in the care of Wells & Young's (W&Y) since November. With the successful distribution of world beers such as Corona, Red Stripe and Kirin under its belt, big things are expected of W&Y by Grupo Damm.

Distribution has, so far, been confined to high-end and style bars in major cities such as London and Manchester. But it's now about to launch on draught in the UK for the first time.

Under AB, the plan was to quadruple the brand between 2008 and 2010. Crous confirms that target was not met. It now sits at about 100,000 cases in the UK.

"AB did a very good job. They

entered the market for us," he says. "We are a 140-year-old company. We want to be in the UK but we don't have any kind of urgency."

The aim is to keep the brand premium, allowing distribution only in bars and pubs that won't undermine that premium image.

But don't be fooled by Crous' apparent softly, softly approach. Grupo Damm has very

big ambitions. Comparisons with the UK success of San Miguel are inevitable.

"San Miguel is a good beer, but for me our beer is better. I think we can do a job much better than San Miguel," he says."W&Y are the top player in imported beer. They already know how to work brands like this and already go to the same bars we want to target. There is already a route to market. We are very confident."

So with growth slow and steady, why launch draught now? Nigel McNally, managing director of W&Y, says Estrella Damm has the potential to grow to between two and five million cases over the next five years.

Its sleek packaging, font and glassware and the backing of Grupo Damm's exceptional marketing prowess give it a good chance of taking on rival brands such as Peroni.

"People who drink Peroni will find it very interesting, but Estrella will find its own way," says McNally. "Draught products achieve much larger volume in the UK and it taps into our target market."

Charles Wells expressed interest when Damm first looked for a UK distributor. Its merger with Young's prevented it from taking it on. After AB and InBev joined forces, their focus switched to core products, hence Damm's and W&Y's new partnership.

Positive associations

"Not many brands can claim seven out of 10 beers sold in their home market," says McNally. "It has so many positive associations with the vibrancy of Barcelona, that I think we have some real magic to play around with.

"Grupo Damm is significantly over-investing, which makes us excited. It will be very much front of mind for our sales force."

So with growth in the UK so far (deliberately) slow, when can we expect to see the brand really making an impact?

It's obvious that those who have been to Spain will recognise it and others will be attracted by what, it has to be said, is a very sleek and stylish font.

"We know how to nurture specialist brands. Ultimately you get to that point that we call 'mass exclusivity' - it's exclusive but sold on a mass basis," says McNally.

"Some other companies would chase targets, numbers and profit and put the product in the wrong outlets - we won't do that."

How are they going to do it?

Estrella Damm's £1m-plus marketing plans include:

• Billboards and adverts in regional press will appear in key areas where the brand is stocked such as London, Manchester and Edinburgh

• Estrella already has headline sponsorship at a number of music festivals, the biggest being Sonar in Barcelona. Consumer and customer incentive trips will be run for this, and the La Merce Festival in September. This will be backed up by adverts in consumer press

• The field sales team will be offering support to all stockists, including tailored PoS.

• There are also plans for a number of experiential campaigns to bring Barcelona to the UK, but for details on that watch this space…

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