Viewed as a social lubricant in many societies, beer is the world's most popular alcoholic drink, consumed in countries across the globe.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong's beer market in Hong Kong is shrinking, according to Terry Yu, deputy general manager, Carlsberg Hong Kong Limited. Where local consumption declined by two per cent last year, it decreased by a further four per cent this year.
"This is the result of a shift in customer taste, reflecting a preference for wine and whisky. Consumers' spending patterns are also changing. For example, more people are crossing the border for entertainment," Mr Yu explains. "Thirdly, the ban on smoking has been extended to nearly all public areas, including karaoke venues and restaurants. Since many beer lovers enjoy smoking cigarettes at the same time, beer consumption drops when they stop visiting those entertainment venues."
Yet, in spite of the challenges, Carlsberg has come up with a number of creative marketing strategies. Image consolidation is underway to boost sales of Carlsberg Green Label ¡X the company's best-known brand; along with a commitment to maintain a full portfolio of beverages for its consumers.
"Since we have strong logistical support, including our own warehouse and transportation teams, we can maximise the use of existing resources for distribution of other beverage products," Mr Yu notes. "When the market structure becomes more fragmented, we can't rely on a single brand to maintain our position."
Currently, Carlsberg Hong Kong is responsible for the sales and marketing of more than a dozen beverage brands. The product range spans from economically priced lager targeting consumers seeking value for money to the world's number one stout with its distinctive features in look and flavour. "Fun, hip and in" drinks like Jolly Shandy with a low alcohol content are also promoted to complement leisure aspirations across various generations.
Mr Yu points out that the company is looking at the introduction of German wheat beer Erdinger and that it will continue to explore new possibilities. To cater for the sales and marketing needs linked to this wide spectrum of quality beverages, a variety of advertising campaigns are in the pipeline.
In most of Carlsberg's promotional activities, innovative ideas are incorporated with the company's core values. From this summer onwards, draught beer lovers will detect an extra crispness in their drinks dispensed from kegs. Mr Yu elaborates, "Draught beer in bars is normally served at four degrees Celsius. But using our inventive newly designed kegs with an extra chiller, we can cool it to zero degrees. As summer temperatures soar, consumers can take their beers outside for leisurely drinking, a great way to enjoy beer. This promotion was launched in Lan Kwai Fong last month.
Although Mr Yu anticipates positive results from Carlsberg's promotions, he says, it is more important to have faith when implementing such marketing exercises. "Sometimes you can gauge the outcome through statistics such as sales figures and the number of participants in an event. There are also sets of parameters, such as research findings following certain advertisements. However, in many cases, we can only see blurred indications. The most important of all, we believe in what we are doing."
Believing that people who like beer often have a passion for football, Carlsberg has been sponsoring events related to the sport for years. "We already have 14 years of consistent cooperation with Liverpool Football Club and have just signed another contract. We can't quantify the exact returns from our investment in sporting events. But we are often seen as the official beer of major football fiestas," Mr Yu adds.
To cope with business development in all areas of sales, Carlsberg Hong Kong is recruiting business development officers. The candidates should be dynamic and outgoing to assume the role of building good relationships with customers.
Primarily, new recruits should be open-minded and aggressive enough to take the initiative to win market share as they will be required not only to maintain the existing pool of customers, but also to bring new ones on board. In addition to broadening distribution coverage, they will also be expected to sell more products to individual accounts. Talented individuals should also be able to adapt to different working environments, including hotels, clubs and cooked-food stalls.
"Apart from performing sales jobs, business development officers have a key function in marketing too," Mr Yu adds. "As they understand the clients better than any other employees, they are able to act as a link between the company and the people it serves. They need to share their knowledge of client corporations to improve our marketing approaches."
Flexibility is therefore an advantage in climbing the career ladder in this unique business, where professional satisfaction is enhanced by an enjoyable work environment, Mr Yu concludes.