Heineken likes them apples with home challenge for C&C

Orchard Thieves to enter Irish cider market against the Bulmers/Magners maker

Heineken sent out crates of their new cider during the week. They didn’t reveal the brand but the fox on the box suggests it will be Orchard Thieves. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Heineken sent out crates of their new cider during the week. They didn’t reveal the brand but the fox on the box suggests it will be Orchard Thieves. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

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While the Bulmers/Magners maker C&C mulls the future of its English cider business, Heineken plans to challenge it in its own backyard. The Dutch brewer has stolen in with Orchard Thieves, a new cider for the Irish market.

Stephen Glancey and Kenny Neison, C&C’s well-regarded chief executive and its finance head, need another battleground with Heineken like a tipsy drinker needs another flagon. It won’t kill them, but it’ll cause a headache all the same.

Heineken has been busy drumming up publicity for its new Irish cider venture, which it has declined to confirm is Orchard Thieves. It sent out crates of the stuff this week, although the labels on the bottles contained an image of a question mark.

Withholding the brand name prior to launch is a classic marketing technique: create anticipation and momentum before unveiling the big “secret”.

There was, probably deliberately, a clue in the crates, however. The bottle opener had an image of a particular fox, precisely the same as the little chap that adorns bottles of Orchard Thieves in New Zealand, which Heineken acquired in 2013 when it bought the parent of DB Breweries.

Orchard Thieves will be unveiled by Heineken on May 1st with a national marketing campaign. It is interesting that it hasn’t chosen to attack the Irish market with one of its UK-based cider brands, such as Strongbow.

Perhaps it felt it would be too difficult to shake off Strongbow’s blokey advertising image, a legacy of the days before cider became a premium product.

Heineken plans to invest only about €20 million over five years in the launch of Orchard Thieves, a significant sum but not enough to storm the market.

The risk for C&C is not that it might cede a large share of its roughly €300 million Irish sales to Orchard Thieves. It is that more big drinks companies will step into the water that Heineken plans to test. Ireland is a trendy consumer market once again, and it is crammed with cider drinkers.

As for C&C, its executives won’t be trembling behind the apple trees at the notion of a wee bit of competition. But they would be wise not to dismiss the Heineken threat entirely.

C&C’s rival has learned much about how the Irish company operates from tangling with it in Britain and the US. It may apply some of those lessons here.

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