The Perfect Brew
By Stacey King Gordon
Making a solid brand even more powerful.
Packaging has opened a lot of doors for Marjan Falek—both in her personal career and at Heineken, the Dutch brewer that has taken the American beer market by storm.
“I am ‘born and bred’ Heineken,” Falek says. The first company she ever worked for, Heineken moved her through a variety of account management positions in the Heineken Export Group in The Netherlands. Then, Falek accepted a role overseeing packaging supply chain activities for Heineken’s brands in the United States. Three years later she returned to The Netherlands as part of the International Expatriation Group, managing the placement of Heineken employees across three continents.
But the love of packaging she had developed during her previous role kept calling her back. “Packaging is truly my passion,” she says. “Understanding what makes one package a success and another just a ‘me too’ and applying that insight to our design is what energizes me.”
She has perfected that formula again and again as she has helped to expand Heineken USA’s packaging portfolio. Falek says the introduction of the Heineken 12-oz. keg can helped Heineken—and imports in general—slide smoothly into the canned beer market that was formerly reserved for domestic brands.
At the same time, she has rolled out innovative packaging designs for brand extensions. Under her watch, Heineken introduced the sleek, sophisticated longer body bottle for high-end Heineken Premium Light; the limited-release, champagne-style three-liter Heineken Magnum bottle for the holidays; and the new five-liter DraughtKeg, a package with a patented tapping system that keeps the beer fresh for 30 days, for a “draught beer at home experience.”
Heineken’s introduction of the Heineken Premium Light packaging design turned heads in the branding and design worlds.
“From the beginning we knew that we wanted to translate the overall proposition into the packaging—clean, crisp and smooth,” Falek says. “We did not want to go the usual brand extension road. However, we did not want to lose the connection with parent brand Heineken either. The result was a green bottle with a neck and shoulder ratio that harkens back to the Heineken bottle but with an elongated and narrower body. The minimalist design, executed in pressure-sensitive label material, reinforces the brand proposition. We were glad to see that consumer research confirmed our thinking.”
These packaging innovations keep the Heineken brand as fresh as they keep the beverage, helping it maintain the number six slot in beer sales in the United States—the second largest import brand next to Corona. Heineken saw an 11 percent growth in volume in 2006 in the U.S. market and enjoyed its biggest surge in the international premium segment since the 1980s.
Most importantly, the company has used packaging, among other tactics, to revitalize a brand that BusinessWeek, only four years ago, suggested was growing “tired, reliable but unexciting,” despite its instantly recognizable “stubby” green bottle.
That means stretching the brand carefully but creatively. “Our current U.S. design uses the key elements of our global packaging but communicates them in a way this market demands—energetic and fresh,” Falek says. “I would say ours is a strategy of evolution: taking the elements that work well and continuing to build on and enhance them.”
One of the most rewarding parts of Falek’s job has been evangelizing the power of packaging to the rest of the Heineken organization—and watching the light bulbs go on about its impact. “[I’m proud] of getting my colleagues across the entire organization engaged in packaging and creating a valued place for packaging in the marketing mix,” she says. Part of that has involved demonstrating to marketing people what packaging can do for a brand. The ‘pack on shelf’ can serve as a billboard and can be just as effective as TV advertising in grabbing consumers’ attention.
“Packaging portfolio thinking has become an integral part of our long-term business strategy,” Falek says. “It is rewarding working together with the brand teams on the packages of tomorrow.”
PACKAGING DIRECTOR, HEINEKEN USA INC.
Name: Marjan Falek
Title: Packaging Director, Heineken USA Inc.
Years in current job: Six
Ultimate branded package: A package that stands out—iconic, revolutionary, functional, beautiful, immediately recognizable and connective with the consumer. Of course I am biased, but I would say the Heineken 12-oz. keg can and the Heineken Premium Light sleek bottle are two prime examples. The Coke bottle is another ultimate package; it’s unmistakable.
What’s on your nightstand? Flags of Our Fathers, the story about soldiers making the journey from young men to real heroes. The dedication of these men to one another is gripping and admirable. Also, Sticky Wisdom, an explanation of the importance of creativity in company thinking.