Raahil Chopra
Sep 24, 2020

'Covid has accelerated trends on alcohol consumption': Alexander Lambrecht, AB InBev

The VP, marketing of South Asia, talks about challenges faced by the company, sharing a brand name with the pandemic and more....

Alexander Lambrecht
Alexander Lambrecht
According to media reports, the liquor industry in India is set to face a 35-40% dip in sales this year due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Another industry that’s facing a major dip is the travel industry with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimating a reduction of 58-78% globally. 
In an attempt to help both these industries recover, AB InBev’s Corona has tied up with Thrillophilia to launch ‘rediscover paradise’ in India. It’s part of Corona’s global campaign where the brand has pledged to provide aid to over 1,000 hotels across the world with over 14,000 hotel room bookings.
In the first stage of this campaign in India, Corona has pre-purchased rooms at independently run homestays and resorts that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, around Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to offer them some immediate financial relief.  These room bookings and stays are offered at discounted rates for travelers to book now and travel when they deem safe.
We caught up with Alexander Lambrecht, VP, marketing – South Asia, AB InBev, to learn more about this, how the brand has dealt with the lockdown, having a beer named after the pandemic and more. 
It’s been only a week, but how has the partnership with Thrillophilia taken off?
AL: Currently the results are positive globally and from India In terms of bookings, I don't have numbers right now but we had 1,50,000 visits to the site. Like you mentioned, it is still early days but it's exciting to see people show interest. We are believers in the campaign and have announced it in the midst of covid because we believe people have started looking ahead and we want to support the travel community. This is the DNA of the brand. When people are outside they're the best version of themselves. The tourism industry is the most effected and that's why we're doing this. We're providing promotions and financial aid. It was a natural partnership - it was a match made in heaven. They have the same DNA as us - it's about getting the right experience out. 
How important is India as a market for Corona and where would it be ranked among top markets globally? With AB InBev’s Budweiser operating (albeit at a different price point) is there scope for one more beer brand?
Every market is at a different life stage in terms of development. India isn't the most mature right now, but at the same time it isn't the least mature too. 
One strength we see in the Indian market is that people are moving to premiumisation. That's what we are seeing in every market. If you look at the growth of the alcohol industry - premium and above segments is where most of the growth is coming from. As people mature and get disposable income they want a superior experience. 
There's place for one more than one brand for sure. In fact, along with Budweiser and Corona we also have Hoegarden in the Indian market.
At this stage, Corona is a small brand in the market but we have seen the consumption accelerate in the last year or two.
India is relatively small today in terms of number, but we believe the growth will be exponential.
How challenging have the last six months been for the alcoholic beverage category in India?
We were dependent on out of home consumption and that has obviously have been hit. But, during Covid or not, marketing is about understanding what consumers truly want. People want a beer experience and now it's happening in very different ways. Covid hasn't necessarily led to new consumer behaviour but it has accelerated certain trends we were seeing.
For example, we were seeing a growth in in-house consumption of beer. Now due to covid that has accelerated.
E-commerce has been also grown. This wasn’t possible in India earlier, so new opportunities are unlocking. We want to offer the best solutions for consumers.
Budweiser is our flagship brand in India and we adapted straight away to launch a music festival for people at home. This was initiated in March itself and we were streaming top Indian DJs for the first 15 days of the lockdown. We had more than 1 million people tune into these streams. 
It was about adapting because consumers are adapting and it’s the same exercise for all brands and marketers. We have to become more agile as there are changes every day. Now, we can't take nine months to prepare a campaign. That's fundamentally how marketing has changed and we have to become better at solving consumer needs.
We did that with Corona too with this tie-up. People will start travel by car first for obvious reasons and go closer. 
There were claims earlier in the year when the coronavirus hit that the brand was also hit before being refuted by the company. In India, we also saw a whiskey brand take on the Corona brand in a social media post which has led to a court case. So, has there been any impact on the brand at all?
So far we don't see any impact. Consumers are smart enough to determine that the namesake virus is different. We don't see a fall in sales in any of our matrix due to this. Our momentum pre-covid to post-covid is the same. It's not India specific, but a global learning. 
The Indian market has different regulations for advertising alcohol and we're seeing a lot of the brands introducing a 0.0 variant in India. Does Corona also have one?
In India it isn't. In India, we understand that 0.0 is important and it's about people coming together. Some times they want the taste of a beer. So we do have a Budweiser 0.0 and Hoegarden 0.0 too 
We're seeing a lot of local brands enter the beer manufacturing space. Would that be a cause of concern with the whole #VocalforLocal movement?
Going back to the earlier point we believe as a company to bring as many people as we can to the brand. Certain people want the taste and flavour of local. That's why we have two initiatives on that end. Firstly, the vast majority of our ingredients are locally sourced. So we are playing a meaningful role in the Indian market through that.
We also have a local Indian brand 7 Rivers through which we have two variants. We didn't do a national launch yet. It was to tap into that phenomenon that we see. Certain people like local flavours and this will be bringing out the best of Indian cuisine. It's been a success so far and we want to expand the proposition in the future. It's indeed answering the consumer demand. 
Campaign India

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