Canijilla, a new line of premium Mexican-flavored hard seltzers imported from the HEINEKEN USA family of beverages, has been created to “deliver consumers a taste and profile unmet by hard seltzers and traditional flavored malt beverages (FMBs),” says Ryan Webb, Director of Innovation at HEINEKEN USA.
To many beverage alcohol consumers, hard seltzers are light, generic, and lacking in strong flavor, while traditional FMBs deliver more but are perceived as inauthentic and high in calories, counter to current health and wellness trends.
“But we’re betting that there is a need for something better for consumers seeking bolder flavor and authenticity,” Webb says.
Canijilla was launched at retail in two markets – San Bernardino, CA and McAllen, Texas — in August 2020.
The new HEINEKEN brand features a distinct proposition: its name means clever and mischievous in Spanish “but in a playful and positive way. The brand personality leverages iconic Mexican imagery for shelf impact.” — Ryan Webb, Director of Innovation at HEINEKEN USA
Canijilla offers flavor-seeking consumers a new beverage alcohol alternative to drive incremental sales and profits for retailers. “It broadens the pool of reach by delivering bolder flavor and true Mexican authenticity,” Webb says. “Flavor has always meant more to shoppers who enjoy Mexican imports.”
Canijilla comes in two flavors with Mango Picosito and Limón Pepino, offering the traditional tastes of a true Mexican cantina. The launch of both flavors in 12-ounce 6-pack cans is supported at retail with “impactful and lively POS, consumer sampling and social media to drive awareness and engagement. This product launch embodies the continued enthusiasm for hard seltzers across the U.S., which shows no signs of slowing,” Webb says.
According to a report by ISWR Drinks Market Analysis, approximately 55 percent of adults who drink alcohol in the U.S. consume hard seltzer at least once a week, proving this is no passing trend.
California Business Journal conducted an in-depth interview with Sophia Lauricella, Manager, Innovation at Heineken, about Canijilla.
Q: There are so many different kinds of hard seltzers, how do you attract customers to your brand?
A: Right now, every brand, every company is coming out with a seltzer. HEINEKEN USA wasn’t looking to put its name above a seltzer and add to the noise. From a strategic innovation perspective, we’re looking to develop products that focus on consumer interests, not just what the market is doing. For Canijilla, it was about identifying the clear hole in the space for consumers interested in a more flavorful, authentic Mexican hard seltzer option.
Q: What is the strategy to roll out the product to customers? Short term and long term?
A: Canijilla first launched in Mexico and when bringing it to the U.S., we wanted to test it in markets where consumers were demanding more flavorful, authentic Mexican hard seltzer option, like San Bernardino, CA and McAllen, TX. We’re seeing a lot of consumers who have tried the product in Mexico and are excited to see it in the U.S. While we plan to expand not only in geography, we’re also looking at our offering and exploring other pack types and flavors.
Q: How is Canijilla different from its competition?
A: Canijilla isn’t just your average hard seltzer. Not only can you see the difference but you can taste it. Developed in Mexico, Canijilla is rooted in authentic Mexican flavors. To start, Canijilla comes in Mango Picosito – a combination of sweet and spicy. Not only is the flavor bold, but it’s a rich color that matches the taste. Canijilla is also available in a refreshing blend of Limón & Pepino. The combination of cucumber and lime is the perfect mix of cool and tart. It’s a product made for people who value flavor and taste, especially in a way that they are used to.
Q: How do you measure success in launching a new seltzer product?
A: We look at it from all angles. Of course we’re looking at the sales data. For example, Canijilla is outselling Truly in convenience chain Stripes in Texas. We’re also looking at how people are responding to it. The test allows us to take that data back and make adjustments as needed, before launching the product on a larger scale.
Q: Why is the market shifting towards hard seltzers? It seems like everyone is in the game right now, from White Claw, Trader Joe’s store brand, and even Natty Light.
A: We’re seeing companies jump into the seltzer game in a lot of different ways. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Based on our research, consumers are looking for products that align more to their changing tastes – especially with a more balanced lifestyle in mind. Seltzer’s are lower in calories and more sessionable – and easy to drink. What we’re seeing now is that people are taking a harder look at their options, given there are so many more. So that’s where we come in and offer something that was missing.
Q:. Why is the product launching in San Bernardino and Texas first?
A: Combination of things — from distributor partners to retailers and demographics. It’s a sweet spot really — and no I’m not talking about Mango Picosito. First we looked at the consumer demographics, then we looked at our partners in the area and made a decision. We wanted to test in two different markets to try to get as much information as possible that will help us to make the next move.
Q: What effects does releasing a new product like this have on other Heineken products, such as Tecate, which seems to be targeting a similar market?
A: HEINEKEN USA’s innovation strategy is to look at beverages beyond beer – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. While we may be looking at a similar demographic, we’re offering something different to consumers that we’re also hearing they want as well.
Q: How will Canijilla use social media to attract customers?
A: Like the shelves at a retailer, social media is crowded. The goal is to always create content and assets that differ from what other brands are doing. We keep a real close eye on our assets and their performance, and are continuously optimizing.
Q: How has marketing products like this one changed with the pandemic?
A: Even before the pandemic, we always had a digital-first approach. Do we wish we could sample this product in store? Absolutely. But we’re looking at other ways to do that – like single serve cold bins in certain locations. Our goal is to get as many people LDA (21+) to taste Canijilla. From there it should be an easy choice for them the next time they’re standing in the beverage aisle. The test isn’t only about the product – it’s also about our tactics to see what works and what doesn’t. We’re looking to innovate in every aspect of this experience.
Q: How was Canijilla conceived and developed?
A: Canijilla was conceived with our team at HEINEKEN Mexico. When we were doing our research for the U.S. market, we were seeing an opportunity to get into this space. Across all the markets, there’s constant communication, especially with the innovation teams, so we knew they were launching something that we would want to bring to consumers here. We took a really fun brand. Canijilla actually means mischievous in Spanish slang and made sure we could communicate it to people here in the States. Some things don’t always translate well, and we really wanted to make sure that the main differentiators about the product were clear – which is how we got to our tag line of BOLD FLAVOR. BORN IN MEXICO. It’s been a great collaboration to work together and share assets and learnings – especially in ways we see Canijilla growing in the future. We’re looking forward to getting together, once it’s safe, to see what’s next for this brand.
This article was edited and published by Rick Weinberg, California Business Journal’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief. Click here for Rick Weinberg’s biography.