Carlsberg´s Beer Lao In The Footsteps Of Mexico’s Corona Extra

A Soviet-trained female brewmaster is trying to turn an obscure Laotian lager,
owned by Danish Carlsberg, into the world’s next great cult beer, largely by
tapping into the buzz about the brew being carried home by visitors to this
small communist country, writes The Wall Street Journal.
The 49-year-old
Sivilay Lasachack, who seldom drinks beer, preferring sweet tea instead, thinks
her Czech-inspired Beerlao has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Mexico’s Corona
But Ms.
Sivilay, chief brewmaster at Lao Brewery Co. is counting on savvy marketing to
overcome the beer’s relatively unimpressive pedigree, in a bid to emulate Corona’s rise to global
That rise
began in the 1970s when Corona’s
brewer, Group Modelo SA, noticed that lots of empty bottles of the beer weren’t
being returned to distributors for redemption. The reason: After partying the
weekends away at Mexican beach resorts, American surfers and college students
were taking cases of the beer home with them. In response, Modelo started
marketing Corona
in a low-key, unconventional way, linking it to memories of sunshine and the
Ms. Sivilay
says she concluded Beerlao might find a similar niche after she and her
colleagues heard that backpackers who had visited Laos were trying to find the beer
when they got back home. “It was just after Laos began opening up to tourism
and business in the 1990s,” Ms. Sivilay recalls as she strides down the
gantries crisscrossing her shiny, modern brewery.
“A lot
of visitors were going home and asking bars and supermarkets for Beerlao, and
then local beer distributors began contacting us. That’s when we knew we might
have an international brand,” she adds.
Taking in
the sunset over the Mekong River while knocking back an ice-cold beer has become
a must for visitors to Laos.
Along a half-mile stretch of the river in Vientiane, the capital, hundreds of
stalls and bamboo-frame restaurants have sprung up to cater to thirsty
tourists, providing a unique Asian twist on the German beer hall.
Despite the
fact that most Laotians aren’t big beer drinkers, Lao Brewery, which produces
Beerlao, is the country’s largest taxpayer.
nothing like kicking back with a Beerlao,” says Brian Walters, a
23-year-old visitor from Charlotte, N.C., while his companion, 24-year-old
Lindsay Stapleton from Denver, waves off a woman trying to sell them some fried
grasshoppers to accompany their drinks.
Ms. Sivilay
and the rest of Beerlao’s management team are trying to amplify a similar buzz
overseas. They appear to be making some progress. Carlsberg
AS of Denmark recently doubled its stake
in the brewer to 50% and is prepared to put its global distribution chain at
Beerlao’s service, company officials say.
But Lao
Brewery doesn’t want to come on too strong. Its marketing manager, 47-year-old
Bounkanh Kounlabouth, fears that promoting Beerlao too aggressively will scare
off its grass-roots following. Instead, he would rather follow Corona’s example of becoming an
“accidental” brand. “We don’t want to undermine Beerlao’s
word-of-mouth appeal, so for us it is better to let it grow naturally.”
Bounkanh spends much of his time trying to engineer such an
“accident.” Because he is relying on foreign tourists to spread the
word about Beerlao, he is promoting the brand heavily in Laos. “We
won’t let the competition get a foothold,” Mr. Bounkanh says to The Wall
Street Journal.
were a bit skeptical at first,” says James Morgan, a director at British
distributor Milestone Point Ltd. “But it’s one of the few brands where the
customer seeks it out rather than the other way round.”
Beerlao is
winning fans in the U.S.,
too. Paul Sher, general manager at one of the beer’s U.S.
distributors, H.C. Foods Co. Ltd. in Commerce, Calif., says Beerlao is picking up some
momentum at supermarkets and other outlets.

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