"Probably the best beer in the world," is how Carlsberg memorably described itself in an ad campaign originally created by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1973, when Carlsberg Group first began brewing its eponymous lager in the UK. However, more recently, life for Carlsberg UK has become much more difficult. For years, the UK was the parent group's single biggest market by volumes, but performance plunged during 2015 following a decision by retailer Tesco to delist almost all versions of the main Carlsberg brand as a response to deep discounting in other sellers. As a result, Carlsberg has attempted to drag itself upmarket, loosening sponsorship ties to several mass-market sports. For more than 20 years, for example, the beer was official sponsor of the England football team, but it declined to renew that arrangement in 2018, ironically just before the side's unexpectedly strong showing in that year's FIFA World Cup. (It still sponsors Liverpool FC, and got a boost from that side's 2020 Premier League championship). In 2019, the company took steps to reposition Carlsberg even more explicitly by completely overhauling the brewing process to improve the beer's taste. However, sales have continued to fall. In the UK take-home lager market, the Carlsberg brand sat in 10th place in 2019, with sales of £100m (Nielsen in The Grocer). Five years earlier it was the local #3 with sales of £350m. It still ranks #3 in on-trade sales at £530m in 2019 (Morning Advertiser/CGA). The main beer is partnered by high-strength Carlsberg Special Brew and no-alcohol variant Carlsberg Nordic. However the brand is now outsold in take-home by San Miguel, which Carlsberg distributes in the UK. It ranks 6th at £147m in take-home and £363m on-trade. Other brands include Tetley's Bitter, Holsten Pils and Somersby Cider. The group also distributes its own Tuborg, Poretti and Grimbergen brands in the UK, as well as Brooklyn Brewery craft beers; and it has a sizeable wholesale division that includes specialist wine merchant Crown Cellars. Although Carlsberg owns Kronenbourg in most other global markets, UK rights are held by Heineken UK. In its boldest move for years, Carlsberg acquired a controlling stake in 2020 in the brewing operations of rival Marston's. The merged business is now Carlsberg Marston's Brewing Company. Paul Davies was appointed as CEO. Marston's is best-known for its ale brands, including Marston's Pedigree, McEwan's, Bombardier, Hobgoblin and Wainwright. It also holds the UK license for lager brands including Estrella Damm, Erdinger, Warsteiner and Kirin. The majority of sales are in the on-trade sector rather than take-home. Estrella Damm is its top-seller in take-home with sales of £59m in 2019, followed by Hobgoblin at £34m.
Capsule checked 20th November 2020
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Historical profile information for Carlsberg Group
Adbrands Daily Updsate 25th May 2020: UK independent brewer Marston's is to inject its beer-making operations into a new joint venture controlled by global giant Carlberg. The latter will assume a 60% stake in Marston's beer business and will combine both company's assets into newly created Carlsberg Marston's Brewery Company. Marston's will retain a 40% stake in the business and receive a cash payment of £273m, but will now focus its main attention on its estate of 1,400 UK pubs. The deal values Marston's brewery business at £580m and Carlsberg UK at £200m.
Adbrands Social Media 22nd May 2019: "The Lake". Carlsberg's bold attempt to reboot consumer feelings about its flagship lager gets another push in Fold7's darkly humorous new ad, again featuring Mads Mikkelsen. This follows a brave 'Mean Tweets' campaign in which the brand reposted negative past comments from drinkers who likened the beer to "the rancid piss of Satan" or "stale breadsticks". The UK brewing process has undergone a complete overhaul since then to improve taste and consistency. Will it work? Only time will tell, but strong ads like this should certainly help.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Oct 2018: Ads Of The Week: "Unfiltered". Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen returns for another Carlsberg spot from UK indie Fold7, part of the brewer's continuing attempt to reposition itself as a premium brew rather than a beer for the masses. This time Mads kicks back for a bit of hygge - or whatever is the Danish equivalent of it - with new premium variant Carlsberg Unfiltered. There's a very gentle hint of Old Spice about the ad's visual trickery, but the overall effect is really rather laidback and chilled. Nicely done.
Adbrands Social Media 14th May 2018: That's right: "Rich" not "Beach"... The new spot for Spanish beer San Miguel - now managed in the UK by Carlsberg - is very cute. Indie agency Pablo have built up a strong position across the whole Carlsberg portfolio in the UK, and their creative output has grown increasingly confident. This new campaign ties in to San Miguel's sponsorship of the alternative UK Rich List ranking, the flipside to the Sunday Times's version. Different people define rich in different ways, and this ad - loosely conceived in the intro as some kind of social experiment - asks which of these two versions you'd prefer. Hmmmm. I know which one we're *meant* to choose... but that first version is rather tempting too...
Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Mar 2018: Carlsberg declined to renew its sponsorship of the England national football team after this year's World Cup. That puts an end to 22 underwhelming years in which the side rarely got beyond the quarter-finals stage at any international tournament. The brewer will continue its sponsorship of eight Premier League sides including Liverpool and Tottenham. It also sponsors Live Nation's various UK music festivals as well as Glastonbury, where it will be the official beer for the 11th year this year. However, other brewers still have faith in the beleaguered England side. Budweiser was quick to step into the breach, with what is reported to be a significantly better offer, expanding an existing relationship with the Football Association that already includes sponsorship of the FA Cup. As part of the deal, AB InBev will also become the exclusive beer provider for Wembley Stadium. Budweiser has enjoyed a dramatic surge in popularity in the UK over the past year, overtaking Foster's to become the #2 take-home lager behind Stella Artois.
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