Jorgen Rasmussen: Right time for change of tactics? Probably...

The Business Interview: Carlsberg's chief executive tells why a change of slogan and a big footballing summer may just put some fizz back into beer sales

For Jorgen Rasmussen, the chief executive of Carlsberg, selling beer and lager in more than 150 markets globally brings a plethora of challenges from dealing with painful hikes in alcohol taxes to geo-political unrest. These challenges extend to it accommodating the vagaries of different cultures globally, which convinced the Danish brewer to take the momentous decision to introduce a new global marketing slogan – That calls for a Carlsberg – in April.

While it remains committed to its famous "Probably the best lager in the world" message – which was invented by Carlsberg's brewery in Northampton in the mid-1970s – in certain countries, notably the UK, Mr Rasmussen says the older one was somewhat lost in translation for Asian consumers.

He says: "With 'Probably the best', the challenge we had in some parts of the world was that 'probably the best' did not work." Mr Rasmussen explains that if you say "probably" to consumers in China, it means definitely not the best. The new slogan will be at the heart of Carlsberg's sponsorship of football's European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine next summer, which Mr Rasmussen describes as a "huge opportunity" for the brand.

However, beyond its marketing message, Carlsberg must also address the huge variables in demand for its 500-plus brands, including Tuborg, Baltika and Kronenbourg 1664, in places from Shanghai to Sheffield.

Carlsberg continues to power ahead in the emerging markets of Asia, with beer sales up by 10 per cent in its third quarter. But in many of its mature markets, such as the UK, sales of beer by volume have been flat or in decline for more than a decade, if not longer.

Sitting in his top-floor office of Carlsberg's headquarters in Copenhagen, Mr Rasmussen has strong opinions on the current state of the beer market in Western Europe, including the UK – where it also operates the Tetley's, Holsten and Skol brands.

He lays part of the blame at the door of this and previous UK governments for introducing higher taxes on beer than wine, for example. He says: "We have been hit by a lot duty and tax increases and sometimes the difference between the increase on wine and beer is not always balanced. And for some reason, there is a different perception of wine, despite it being a lot stronger in terms of alcohol percentage."

However, Mr Rasmussen – an Anglophile who previously worked in the UK for Gillette and Duracel before joining Carlsberg in 2006 – says: "We still need to work more on the whole image of beer. It is based on natural ingredients and has a low alcohol percentage, compared with many other beverages, so it should be quite attractive. In fairness there was not a lot of innovation in this category between the 1990s and [before] 2005."

Excluding the impact of the economic downturn, Mr Rasmussen expects the wider UK market to continue to be in "slight decline" for the foreseeable future, but "not forever". He adds: "I am not sure if that point will be in four, five, six or eight years' time but I am pretty convinced that we – and many others in the industry – will get better at improving the image of beer. It is a matter of time before we suddenly become a very appealing category again." Carlsberg itself has tried to attract more female drinkers by introducing the Copenhagen brand in Denmark and other Nordic countries earlier this year. Mr Rasmussen says the "bottle is quite trendy" and it has a "lighter, less bitter taste" that appeals to more women.

But he remained tight-lipped on when, or if, Copenhagen will be launched in the UK.

However, Carlsberg – whose head office is located close to its laboratories, tourism centre and former brewing facilities on a huge site overlooking the centre of Copenhagen – has no such growth problems in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

While Mr Rasmussen says China is its fastest-growing country, with its Wusu beer the most popular, he also says Cambodia has been "growing nicely". Indeed, Asia is the key region for future acquisitions for Carlsberg and its latest deal in October saw it acquiring the remaining 50 per cent of the Hue Brewery in Vietnam.

Mr Rasmussen says: "Our acquisition focus is on growth markets primarily in Asia, so 'yes', we will always be out there monitoring and looking."

Despite the growth in Asia and other regions globally, Carlsberg saw profits tumble by 20 per cent to 3.28bn Danish kroner (£377m) in its third quarter to 30 September, hit by higher costs and marketing spend in key markets, as well as falling sales in parts of Eastern Europe. In particular, it has suffered from falling sales in Russia – which accounts for more than 40 per cent of group revenues – after the government there significantly raised alcohol taxes in 2010.

Carlsberg also announced a restructuring last week, which will lead to up to 150 head office job losses in Denmark, Poland and Switzerland.

However, the company, which employs 41,000 staff worldwide, is far more upbeat about the European Championship next year. In addition to the global marketing deal, supplying the beer at the stadium and the fan park, Carlsberg also sponsors England, which means it can use the players on its merchandising in supermarkets, for example.

The tournament's official beer sponsor since 1988, Mr Rasmussen declines to quantify the impact on sales for Carlsberg. But says: "It does give a significant uplift." And revealing his cheeky side, he says: "The uplift depends on if we have a sunny, warm June in Europe and if Denmark, England and Russia get to the semi-final, which would be fantastic."

But he is far less ebullient about the impact of the eurozone crisis on consumers. "We can only see that from a macroeconomic point of view it will get worse not better for the foreseeable future. But that will also influence the way that consumers think about what they purchase and how they behave."

With Europe in such poor shape and Asia being so appealing, it is perhaps easy to see why Carlsberg sought to alter "probably" the best advertising slogan in the world this year.

The CV: Jorgen Rasmussen

* Following three earlier research and product roles in Denmark, the Dane became the Nordic marketing director at the battery company Duracel in 1987. He then took his first job on these shores, as general manager of Duracel UK and Ireland in 1993. He then rose to become Duracel's area director for Northern Europe but joined the razor firm Gillette as president of Northern Europe in 1997. Four years later he was promoted to become Gillette's president of Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe. He became Carlsberg's executive vice-president in 2006 and got the top job in 2007.

* He lives in Copenhagen but still has a flat in England's Guildford. Mr Rasmussen is married and has two boys. In this free time, he likes to do spinning classes at the gym, go running and play tennis. "I feel bad if I don't exercise."His music extends from Bruce Springsteen to Dire Straits. His favourite beer is Carlsberg and he admits: "I am always a man for a party and of course, beer at the party."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent