Reimagining The Beer Aisle

Heineken USA is devising a modern set of standards for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Under Heineken’s plan, traditional cooler doors such as the ones above will have LCD screens that provide information on beer styles, brand history, and special promotions.
Under Heineken’s plan, traditional cooler doors such as the ones above will have LCD screens that provide information on beer styles, brand history, and special promotions.

E-commerce is an ever-growing challenge to brick-and-mortar retailing, but new products in supermarket aisles can spark more in-store sales.

For more than a year, Heineken USA has been examining how to reinvent beer merchandising, and in recent months it’s been testing new ideas with chain accounts, including Albertsons Cos. and Shell, while mining reams of data to develop the “beer aisle of the future.” Senior director of commercial marketing for Heineken USA Vikas Satyal says testing is still underway, and although it’s too soon to determine any results, he’s impressed with the concepts thus far.

The idea is to create a beer aisle where consumers linger and explore, rather than just grab a 6-pack and go, says Tanisha Harris, part of Heineken USA’s commercial marketing team. Signage for imports, craft, and other segments can help customers navigate the aisles more easily, she explains, noting that cooler doors with LCD screens can provide information on beer styles, brand history, and special promotions—all while encouraging customers to remain in the beer aisle. Additional tools include in-cooler p-o-s to help consumers navigate beer caves, enhanced lighting, and the use of iPads for educational purposes.

In c-stores, the goal for most shoppers is a quick transaction. But when it comes to beer, Shell is interested in strategies that encourage trading up, impulse purchases, and customer loyalty, while also getting customers to spend more time in the aisle. Heineken USA is serving as a category advisor for a Shell prototype store in Louisville, Kentucky that features a new “Brew Way” beer section. In addition to upgraded beer caves, the department has transparent LCD touch-screen technology on cooler doors, while the flow inside the cooler is designed to drive trade-up and higher rings to large multi-packs. The test is still in its early days, but Satyal says that Shell plans to expand the concept.

“We want to be the best in market in the beer category, and partnering with Heineken USA allows us to have the optimal range of products and be seen as a destination for beer missions,” says Darren Comeau, Shell’s global category manager. “Heineken has really delivered. Our pilot site is exceeding their sales forecast, which for a new store is an amazing accomplishment.”

In grocery stores, one goal is to convert ordinary shoppers into beer customers. Satyal says that while beer is one of the largest revenue drivers for supermarkets, the beer aisle is rarely an impulse trip. On average, only 43% of unintended purchasers buy beer, as compared to 61% in other categories. In its discussions and tests with Albertsons and a major southwestern supermarket chain, Heineken USA is exploring how to best communicate the beer aisle as a unique destination, encourage consumers to shop the entire department, increase trade-up, and educate and interact with shoppers along the way.

For now, Heineken USA’s efforts are focused on the grocery and convenience channels, but it could expand to other trade channels in the future. “Mom-and-pop wine shops should also be thinking about what their stores will look like in the future,” says Satyal. “We believe beer retail stores can remain competitive, sought-after outlets, even while the brick-and-mortar landscape is in flux. But for them to do so will require a shift in the mindset from the traditional beer aisle of today to the aisle of the future.”