Ask practically any beerdrinker in the world to name an import beer, and chances are he or she will name Heineken. “It’s the most international brand in the world,” Caribbean Managing Director Eugene Ubalijoro asserts. “It’s our flagship brand, and it’s available in more than 170 countries. In any country you can name, you’ll find Heineken there. It’s obviously critical that we keep nurturing that brand, keep making sure it grows and remains relevant to young adult consumers.”
Ubalijoro accomplishes that in the Caribbean not only through global advertising but also through local promotions that align with what the Heineken brand stands for, which is premium quality. “The brand is for people who consider themselves to be a man of the world,” he maintains. “We aim to delight and surprise our consumers all over the world.”
Not only is Heineken a brand of beer, it also is the name of a multifaceted corporation with ownership interests in beverages throughout the world. Heineken owns a portfolio of brands that are distributed worldwide, such as Italian brewer Moretti, the Belgian Affligen, England’s Newcastle Brown Ale and Holland’s Amstel Light. Just in the Caribbean – where Heineken is brewed and distributed as a premium brand – the company owns a number of local breweries.
“Local beer is about local brands,” Ubalijoro maintains. “If you go to the Bahamas, we have Kalik, a local brand. In St. Lucia, we have Piton Beer. In Martinique, we have Bière Lorraine. If you go to Haiti, we have Prestige. Local brands are usually the most consumed brands, because they cater to the mainstream segment of the market.”
Prestige won the gold award for an American-style cream ale or ale at the 2012 Brewers Association World Beer Cup competition at the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference. Heineken was a minority shareholder in Brasserie Nationale d’Haïti, the brewery in Haiti that produces Prestige. “We’ve always been present in Haiti,” Ubalijoro insists. “An opportunity came for us to take over the majority this year, and we did, but we’ve always been in Haiti.”
Ubalijoro is responsible for all Heineken’s activities in the Caribbean. “We’ve been operating in the Caribbean for many, many years via our own breweries or licensed partnerships,” Ubalijoro says. “We also have export markets like Puerto Rico, Barbados and Bermuda where Heineken enjoys a good position in the premium segment.”
Promotions by Heineken include the first ever truly global Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Trophy Tour. This brings the famed trophy closer to football fans around the world. Stars of the sport make appearances with the trophy in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. The trophy also is escorted through Africa from Dar-es-Salaam to Mombasa and Nairobi. Its tour ends in Shanghai. This is the sixth time Heineken has sponsored the tour.
“Heineken is one of the main sponsors of that tournament in Europe,” Ubalijoro points out. “For example, we take that property and we basically activate it in all our markets using the Heineken brand.” The association of Heineken with the UEFA – which assembles the best football teams in Europe – adds to Heineken’s premium image, he says.
“It’s easy to introduce a brand like Heineken in a new market, because you’ll find most people are familiar with the name,” Ubalijoro points out. “They see it in the Champions League, they see it associated with movies like James Bond. It’s very easy to relate to – it’s an internationally well-known brand. We just have to make sure the brand remains relevant as it has been all over the world.”
One way to do that is to have an international staff. Ubalijoro is responsible for Heineken’s brands throughout the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Bermuda. “The Heineken brand is an international brand, so for us to make it relevant, we have to have managers who come from different backgrounds, understand different cultural environments and position the brand so it is understood by global consumers,” he says.
His management team is a virtual United Nations, including members who are Caribbean, French, Dutch, Italian, American, Irish and Mexican. Ubalijoro himself is from Rowanda, Africa. He attended Georgetown University in the United States and received an MBA from The Université de Sherbrooke in Canada.
“I’ve been with Heineken for 22 years,” Ubalijoro relates. “I started as a trainee in my home country of Rwanda.” He was placed in a training program in sales, production and marketing for two years and worked in France and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He also worked as a commercial manager until 1995 and a regional marketing manager based in Atlanta in the United States. Then it was off to Amsterdam and Heineken world headquarters, then Africa again, and on to a small French island in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. “I’m always looking for challenges, and today my challenge is to grow my business in the Caribbean,” he says.
The recent global financial crisis is keeping Ubalijoro’s management team on its toes. “The world is going through a global crisis, so we are just learning how to maneuver,” he says. “We have to adapt to the challenging circumstances just like everybody else.”
For the future, Ubalijoro seeks out synergies. “We are always looking at various opportunities that match up with our strength, obviously in brewing,” he notes. “We first try to assess the size of these opportunities. So if we feel the opportunity is interesting enough, we get into it at this point. We always look at all possible opportunities that may come up, but we don’t get into opportunities that don’t make sense.”