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Heineken NV HEIA.AE +1.95% is giving its green bottle a face-lift in the U.S., hoping it will help its flagship Dutch lager and one-time leading beer import stand tall again after years of market-share losses.
A slimmer green Heineken bottle with a longer neck is arriving this week in New York City bars and restaurants, ahead of a national rollout by the Amsterdam brewer in January. Heineken, the first foreign beer to reach U.S. shores after Prohibition ended in 1933, had long stuck with a squat green bottle.
The world's third-largest brewer by volume also increased the advertising budget of its namesake lager by roughly half in the U.S. last year, and is banking on a marketing lift this fall from James Bond, more known for ordering vodka martinis.
Welcome to the bottle wars. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, ABI.BT +0.16% the leading brewer in the U.S., launched Bud Light Platinum earlier this year in a cobalt-blue bottle to try to stand out on crowded store shelves and in bars after a new Budweiser can last year sported large red bow ties.
No. 2 U.S. brewer MillerCoors LLC TAP -0.11% introduced a "punch top'' can with a second tab this year for Miller Lite, promising a smoother pour after earlier rolling out an aluminum pint bottle with a wider opening and resealable cap. Coors Light has won over customers in recent years with "cold-activated'' cans and bottles that turn blue after being chilled.
Heineken lost its long-standing title as the top-selling import beer in 1997 to Corona Extra, marketed by Grupo Modelo GMODELO.MX -0.03% SAB of Mexico. While Heineken remains the No. 2 import brand, U.S. shipments fell for a fourth straight year in 2011, pushing its share of the beer market by volume below 2%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, a data service. Shipments of the flagship lager have risen this year, but not as fast as many rivals.
AB InBev has widened distribution of Belgium's Stella Artois and its German Beck's brand, while MillerCoors stocks grocery stores with beers such as Italy's Peroni and the Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell. Hundreds of small-batch, domestic "craft'' brewers with bold-tasting brews also have swiped drinkers from established brands.
The new Heineken bottle is 1.25 inches taller than the old bottle, with a longer, narrower neck the brewer believes makes it look more modern. A thumb groove is designed to improve the grip and encourages drinkers to hold the bottle lower down, keeping the beer colder. A strong shoulder aims to convey an air of "masculinity and pride,'' according to Heineken.
"As we are trying to bring a new generation into the brand, we feel this is a tangible way of revitalizing it,'' said Dolf van den Brink, the 39-year-old president of Heineken USA. The beer itself won't change, he added. "Since 1873 we've never touched the recipe.''
The new bottle scored well in consumer tests across roughly a dozen U.S. cities, including among younger so-called Millenials, a key recruitment target, he said. The company began rolling out its new bottle in other countries last year.
Some industry trackers question whether Heineken has a long-term growth recipe for a brand that is still more expensive than most beers but is no longer exotic. In recent years, after sticking to lager, many U.S. drinkers have experimented with less-known brews such as India Pale Ales, fruit-infused wheat beers and oatmeal stouts.
"If they take pricing or reduce investments, what will happen to that brand?" said David Belaunde, a beer analyst at Morgan Stanley.
Heineken is betting new recruits will come back for more. An outdoor Heineken ad in major cities this year touts the company's beer as "imported, which is rare for an import,'' in a jab at rivals such as AB InBev, which began brewing Beck's in St. Louis this year. A handful of other foreign brands, including Japan's Kirin, Australia's Foster's and Jamaica's Red Stripe, also have moved production to the U.S. in recent years.
Heineken also is hoping to create buzz with a global marketing campaign tied to "Skyfall," the latest James Bond film, being released in November. A new television ad starring Daniel Craig, the actor who plays James Bond, will begin airing in the U.S. and elsewhere this week. "Skyfall" also will feature a scene in which Mr. Bond drinks a Heineken, although he also finds time for his trademark martini that is shaken, not stirred, according to the film's producers.