Australian Brews News
Radio Brews News Season 2 Episode 4
Transcript of Interview with Jack Mesley, Marketing Manager, XXXX
Recorded 9 July 2014
A PDF of the transcript can be downloaded here.
Matt Kirkegaard: [0:00] Jack Mesley, welcome to Radio Brews News.
Jack Mesley: [00:01] Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having us.
Matt: [00:04] A pleasure mate. Thank you for taking time out of what is a very busy day. We’re recording this on the eve of State of Origin III, which is a very big day for all at XXXX I can imagine.
Jack: [00:13] Yeah. It is a big day. The end of a compelling series and whilst Queensland didn’t get it up, it’s great that New South Wales have taken this one and the series is back to being contested as the way it should it be.
Matt: [00:28] As a Queenslander, it’s disappointing that they lost but I guess it injects a little bit of interest back into the series.
Jack: [00:35] Yeah, I think you’re right. Whilst the last eight years have been fantastic for Queensland, no doubt south of the border, they’ve been feeling the pain. It’s great that they got up for the series I think, and as Queenslanders ourselves it’s been a good run. We’re going to end at some stage so I guess we just rotate that and get back tonight and I’m making sure that we instil some pride back into Queensland.
Matt: [01:04] Now, that segues quite nicely into what we wanted to talk about and that is you’ve just gone through a major rebrand of the XXXX range of beers?
Jack: [01:12] Yeah, that’s right. Last week we announced that to our consumers and customers and yeah, it’s a big rebrand. It’s the first time since 2008 and it encompasses all of our branding, our logos and our packaging across the board or across the whole range.
Matt: [01:30] 2008 was when XXXX Bitter went into the black can, is that correct or was that a little bit earlier than that?
Jack: [01:37] I think that was the first time. No, sorry. That’s when we moved it from black to the red, which it currently is. Yeah, so I think we first moved into black with Bitter in the late 90s and really that was on the back of the success of XXXX Gold and really the attention that XXXX Gold was starting to grow back in the mid 90s. And we really needed to give Bitter some of its own identity. So Bitter who had worn the yellow for so many years, we introduced some black into that label to help it stand out.
Matt: [02:12] Because you can never really get away from the fact that no matter what the quality of the liquid in the can is or the bottle, marketing and branding is such a big part of modern beer drinking, isn’t it?
Jack: [02:23] Yeah, I think it is and we’ve done a lot of work as part of this refresh, looking at the historical labels and I don’t think that’s just a new thing. Packaging as a marketing tool has been important for ever since we’ve been around which is 135 years. What you hold in your hand at a social occasion, or what you buy through the packaging and labelling and things are so important from a beer point of view particularly.
Matt: [02:54] And XXXX is an interesting brand to watch because I guess XXXX Gold is neck and neck with VB as the biggest selling beer in Australia, around about what? 14.5% of the market?
Jack: [03:08] Yeah and we’re not quite at 14. We’re closer to 13 but, yeah, XXXX Gold is now slightly ahead of VB as the most popular beer across the country in terms of volume sales.
Matt: [03:23] We’re talking about a beer that was only created in 1992. Up until then Queensland has drank the XXXX Bitter, which is the full strength or these days 4.6%?
Jack: [03:36] Yeah, that’s right so 1991 and it’s been a rapid rise. I guess what’s really pleasing is that XXXX Gold is now catching on across the country. We’ve got some great results across all states and some amazing growth happening across XXXX Gold in those other states outside Queensland. We’re at the point now where 50% of our volume comes from outside of Queensland on XXXX Gold.
Matt: [04:07] What’s the national market share for XXXX Bitter, it’s older brother?
Jack: [04:13] It wouldn’t be a lot, to be honest. We only sell that really in Queensland so I couldn’t tell you the national figures of XXXX Bitter but it still plays an important role and a big role up here in Queensland. Obviously, it still holds a lot of share in Queensland.
Matt: [04:33] Is it hard when a beer such as XXXX Gold, and XXXX is such a strongly Queensland associated brand, is it hard when a beer like XXXX Gold does go national and becomes a big part nationally to keep the branding and identity, which is very important to a lot of Queenslanders and keep it seen as a Queensland brand?
Jack: [04:56] Yeah. I guess that’s all part of the challenge with any of our marketing and particularly with the packaging. Whilst Queensland is certainly evolving and what we want to do, what we have set out to do with the new packaging is to make sure that we’re evolving too, to stay relevant to our drinkers in Queensland, but that’s also to make sure that we’re as relevant as ever for our consumers and drinkers in the rest of the country.
[05:27] So getting that balance right is one of the more difficult tasks with any marketing campaign that we do. I mean we’ve obviously got a huge strength in Queensland that we set out to protect, but then obviously we want to sell our proposition which does resonate with non-Queenslanders as well as Queenslanders as much as possible.
Matt: [05:52] And when you say keep the brand relevant, it’s an interesting thing to talk about because on one hand, and I often hear a lot of the craft beer aficionados say, “It doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in the can. It’s the flavour that matters to me. I’m not swayed by brands,” which I always laugh at a little bit. But when you talk about keeping the brand relevant, what does that mean to the modern beer drinker or to the XXXX drinker?
Jack: [06:18] I think we’re lucky to work in a category where as I said before what you do have in your hand at a barbeque, in a pub, in a social environment says something about you. So consumers want those choices that positively reflect who they are or who they want to be. So when I say Queensland, we need to evolve to stay relevant to drinkers across the country, I guess it’s just making sure that as consumers evolve, we’re evolving with them to make sure that we’re staying up to date and not just standing still and relying on what might have worked for consumers 10 years ago.
Matt: [07:02] How important is Queensland’s roots in the national market, the strength of XXXX’s association with Queensland to be sold in Western Australia or Victoria for example?
Jack: [07:15] I think it’s really important in terms of what XXXX stands for. I mean the brand truth that we are from Queensland and have been for 135 years, brewing off the same site where I’m talking to you from today. That’s the essence of what we are and why we exist. The fact that we are brewing beers for this environment for the hot Australian summer and the environment and lifestyle that exists in Queensland is why our beers are what they are and it’s why our whole marketing proposition is what it is.
[07:52] So whilst overt Queensland pride that you do see displayed at Origin time like you will tonight, that’s not kind of what our proposition is based on. It’s based on being a proud Queenslander absolutely. But what we do sell on the back of that is the best of the Aussie lifestyle which as most people around the country would agree, Queensland has it pretty good in terms of that lifestyle and that’s kind of why we bring the beers that we bring to people, great Australian lagers that are perfect for that environment and it’s why our marketing is such.
[08:34] Our marketing is always about the outdoors, about helping people get outside and make the most of the Aussie outdoors and that’s kind of our point of difference I guess. It’s important that that point of difference comes from the fact that we are from Queensland and proudly have been for 135 years.
Matt: [08:53] Is it a double-edged sword these days? I know that it’s a battle that Lion and some of the other major breweries have fought as they’ve brought beers, some of the international labels and brewed them under license in Australia and freshness is a big part. But there is always a risk that you lose some of the brand attributes or offend some drinkers. As XXXX has grown nationally and you’ve taken to brewing it elsewhere around the country, is it hard? With the Milton Brewery, the iconic Milton Brewery on the label, is it hard to keep that same sense of value in the brand?
Jack: [09:34] I don’t think so. I mean I think if you look at our marketing campaigns like XXXX Island Beach Cricket before it and things like that I think the proposition we sell is still very true to that. In terms of the brewing locations and things like that, I mean there’s obvious efficiencies but also benefits to consumers in that beer coming from a local brewery down the road to you as quickly as possible. So I think we’ve managed to stay to true to our proposition and our Queensland roots but by also then from a functional brewery point of view, give people the best possible proposition in the bottle by brewing locally.
Matt: [10:20] And moving onto the XXXX Bitter, it’s a category. I guess the mainstream beer category or the traditional beer category is declining some would say alarmingly. XXXX Bitter itself isn’t a huge brand nationally and it’s still a significant brand in Queensland. What’s the idea behind putting Wilhelm Leitner who is credited as creating the beer and putting his signature and associating the beer with the original brewer?
Jack: [10:56] Yes, I guess this year marks 90 years for XXXX Bitter and 90 years ago, Bill Leitner was our master brewer here on site in Milton and evolved out the brews that we were brewing at the time into these Australian lagers and deliver through XXXX Bitter that is still around today. So what we wanted to do is in the refresh and with Bitter was to really pay homage to that providence. We’re extremely proud that the beer hasn’t changed a hell of a lot in 90 years and 90 years ago was really the first time that we took XXXX the branding and named a beer as XXXX. So we had used the XXXX before that but that was really a moment in time for our brewery that we’re extremely proud of.
[11:49] Bill Leitner was an amazing brewer, extremely inquisitive, came into our brewery and really shook things up. He had some key challenges that he wanted to fix from our brewery. He wanted to stop brewing cloudy beers and went through and basically tore apart our brewery and re-engineered it so that we could brew clear beers that was able to be transported long distances. Up here, back in the time, not only were there long distances across Queensland but obviously it took a lot longer to deliver things back then than it did today.
Matt: [12:30] It’s interesting to hear you say that XXXX hasn’t changed very much over the last 90 years or since Bill Leitner created it. It’s not really a beer that Bill Leitner would recognise anymore in reality is it, the modern beer?
Jack: [12:49] XXXX Bitter?
Matt: [12:49] Yeah.
Jack: [12:52] I mean obviously things evolve but it hasn’t changed substantially really over that time. Obviously, we’ve got pasteurised and unpasteurised beers being key differentiators from the times and times have evolved. And I guess we’re kind of lucky that we still do make XXXX Bitter in it’s unpasteurised version which consumers can enjoy still from the wooden barrels.
[13:18] So I guess that’s probably the key, sort of one of the key differentiators. If you go to the Brekky Creek Hotel and have a XXXX Bitter off the wood that’s probably pretty much the same beer that would have been produced 90 years ago. If you have the pasteurised version which again you can still get it at the Brekky Creek, that’s probably the large part of the differences that you’re seeing.
Matt: [13:45] Is XXXX Bitter still made with Golden Cluster hops or does it use tetra hops these days?
Jack: [13:50] XXXX Bitter doesn’t use the cluster hops. XXXX Gold does use the Golden Cluster hops, yeah.
Matt: [14:00] Okay. Because I mean I’m just thinking back to some old ads that I remember seeing 15, 20 years ago for XXXX Bitter and it was one of the last breweries to retain … I think it was late in changing over from flowers to pellets and then even it was one of the last ones to hold onto brewing with kettle hops rather than … and that would obviously change the character.
Jack: [14:26] Yes, it would. I’m not sure when that change happened actually.
Matt: [14:32] But I also remembered when XXXX Special Brew came out back in 2006 which was just when people’s taste started changing and XXXX has obviously grappled with the changing markets with various things. I remember there was a lot of discussion how XXXX Bitter had gradually skewed away from its traditional bitterness and I’ve got a quote from Brent Wright [sp] who was a brewer back then saying, in describing the new special brew that he was releasing. I’ve got a quote from him saying, “I can still remember the original XXXX which had a lot more bitterness and bite than the beer we have today. Special brew reminds me of that.” So it just seems that the beer itself evolves to chase the market and I wonder what the relevance is these days apart from the history of the brand. It doesn’t really mean much to the beer though, does it?
Jack: [15:35] I don’t know. I mean, people are still looking for a full-flavoured Australian lager. There’s no secret that the majority of the market is still looking for those full-flavoured classic beers, so in Queensland …
Matt: [15:49] I guess that’s my point though is that it’s no longer the same full … and former XXXX brewers actually said that that it’s not … when you say full-flavoured beer, our concept of what a full-flavoured beer has changed dramatically over the last 15 or 20 years, hasn’t it?
Jack: [16:09] Oh yeah. I can’t talk for everyone. I guess in terms of relative in the marketplace, whether it would be still be seen as a full-flavoured beer in today’s marketplace, I argue that it would be. If you look at the advent of contemporary and easy drinking beers, what’s full flavoured is all relative to the changing dynamics of the marketplace.
Matt: [16:31] I guess that’s my point. That the market has changed and XXXX Bitter, the beer has changed to follow that and it’s often talked about skewing or following the market in terms of taste which sort of means that whilst the brand, XXXX brand is a historical brand, the beer itself that we’re drinking today is very different to what Bill Leitner would have brewed or even what … I’m 40 and it’s still a very different beer to what my father would have consumed.
Jack: [17:02] Sorry, I’m not sure of the question. Sorry.
Matt: [17:07] Okay. I agree with you that the market has changed and what the market’s perception of a full-flavoured beer would be has changed and so XXXX has changed to follow that market. But doesn’t that then break the historical connection with the original beer by putting the brewer from 90 years as a name on the label? It’s really a bit of tokenism that doesn’t really have any relevance to the modern beer, isn’t it?
Jack: [17:32] I don’t think so. I mean, obviously these things evolve over time but it’s still a beer that hasn’t evolved a hell of a lot over 90 years and it’s still quite a large part of the Queensland market up here.
Matt: [17:49] Sorry, just before we move on from that, I guess that’s the point that I’m making is that it has evolved a lot. Its recipe has changed. It no longer uses the original Golden Cluster hops that were one of its signatures for a long time. The bitterness is significantly different to what it was. It’s a less full-bodied malt. It’s less malty than it was. So it has changed a lot over time.
Jack: [18:17] Yeah, okay. That’s your view on it and that’s okay.
Matt: [18:23] I mean I guess I’m inviting you to comment. Those were comments that were made by a former XXXX brewer. I’m just sort of asking the question because you made the comment that it hasn’t changed a lot over time which doesn’t seem to actually be the case.
Jack: [18:42] Yeah. Well I guess I can’t talk of the technical aspects of XXXX Bitter in the years gone by because I haven’t been part of that process. I think what I’d like to focus on in terms of this is celebrating the history of a great beer through the refresh, through the brand refresh. That’s really our aim and XXXX Bitter is still full-flavoured whether relatively to the market might have evolved. But it’s still essentially the same beer that’s been around for 90 years and I think it’s appropriate that we celebrate people who had been involved in its history over those 90 years.
Matt: [19:28] I agree, that’s really important and it’s something that we do at Brews News is to really celebrate the history of beer and breweries. I guess my point is that when people think they’re drinking the same beer that they did 50 years ago, that they’re really not and these sorts of moves to tell them that they’re drinking … the beer hasn’t changed. Yes, it’s still a lager but it’s a substantially different lager but I guess we’ll disagree on that. So what else has XXXX got in development at the moment? Is it just going to stay with the three brands? You’ve got the Gold, the Bitter, and the Summer Bright. Are we going to see any brand extensions in the future?
Jack: [20:10] Yeah, we’re definitely always looking at brand extensions. At this stage, we’re still trying to work through, we’ll finalise what they are. We had a few tinkerings going on up here in the brewery and the guys have had some fun lately looking at past brews and things like that. So the brewers up here are always keen to try new things and tinker with the past and we obviously enjoy then doing that.
[20:38] So always looking for opportunities Matt, but at the moment we’ve got nothing to share with what’s going on in the pipeline but ensuring that we’re looking at those opportunities and evolving our offerings is something that we always do, absolutely.
Matt: [20:56] CUB has just brought out a Crown Ale as a stable mate to Crown Lager. Do you think we’ll ever see a XXXX Bitter ale and make it a genuine ale in the future? Is that something that you would consider?
Jack: [21:12] Yeah. Well I think we’d definitely consider it. I mean it’s interesting in terms of ales, where this brewery started with a sparkling ale, XXXX Sparkling Ale. It was a really important part of our history. So yeah, we wouldn’t discount it. Obviously there’s huge trends in diversity of flavour and styles. I think that’s fantastic for beer in general that people are really exploring and it’s great that brands such as Crown are giving options for beer lovers. So we’re right up for that and would definitely look at opportunities for different styles and things like that into the future.
Matt: [21:53] That’ll be a lovely irony with XXXX Bitter being created to move the brewery away from cloudy ales that we saw almost 100 years later, a cloudy ale coming out under the same name.
Jack: [22:08] Yeah. I mean it is funny. I mean you’ve sort of got the two ends of the market in terms of the people looking for real full-flavoured beers but at the other end, then you’ve got people looking for really easy drinking beers. Obviously that’s kind of more where Summer Bright Lager is playing and doing a good job, and there’s other great beers out there. I think it is really good for the category we work in and for brewers around the country that there is this exploration. I think the good thing is that it is happening at both ends of the spectrum.
Matt: [22:44] Just one question before I let you go because I know you are very busy. When you do have a range of beers like Summer Bright Lager and XXXX Gold, which really cater to two very different dynamics or demographics, XXXX Gold drinkers would tend to be the 35 to 50 age group?
Jack: [23:02] Yeah.
Matt: [23:04] And Summer Bright Lager is the 18 to 25 or 18 to 30 age group. When you’ve got the same brand, how hard is it to make both of the beers under that brand relevant without alienating anybody or without confusing the market? How hard is it to target the same brand, two products under the same brand to such different markets?
Jack: [23:31] It’s a good question and I guess as I’ve said coming back to the consistency we do have and ensuring that we’re staying true to our proposition which is all about that Aussie lifestyle and making sure that we’re creating beers and creating brand propositions that really celebrate how wonderful it is to have the outdoor Aussie lifestyle. So I guess if that’s our foundation, then looking at well how is that relevant for the young consumers or 35-year-old family guys? And then sort of making sure that we’re delivering that proposition for those different consumer groups so I guess that’s kind of what we try to do.
[24:16] Summer Bright Lager, we try to live that proposition in a youthful, vibrant, optimistic type of way. And then obviously through XXXX Gold where for those older guys who have larger life pressures, don’t get to necessarily enjoy those things as much as they used to, we celebrate things like great mateship away and those celebrated moments on XXXX Island and things like that.
[24:47] So I think as long as your core is clear and I guess we’re quite lucky that we’ve been working from that core for so long, I think it makes it easier. I think it’s just getting that balance right of not stretching your core proposition too far but making sure you are delivering it in a way that is relevant for the different demographic.
Matt: [25:13] The Brewers Association recently announced plans to look at the way beer is marketed or change the brand for beer and one of the problems it recognised was that beer could be seen as very bloke-y. And within even the XXXX stable, you see two very different portrayals of gender politics, I guess for want of a better word. For XXXX Gold you very rarely see a female in the ads. It’s always four blokes on a camping trip or doing something, whereas in the XXXX Summer Bright ads you see young men and women very much relating and enjoying good times.
[25:58] Is there a generational shift between the two and will we gradually see a move away from that four blokes, four unshaven, rather boofy blokes towards a much more mature representation of men and women consuming beer?
Jack: [26:16] I think we probably will overtime. I think if you look at what we do know with the younger men and women, younger consumers, they are socialising in mixed gender groups more often than we used to. So I think that’s going to be how that plays out over time and how that shifts things as that generation comes through. It’s going to be really interesting to see. But I think the more that beer can evolve to be more relevant for more people, then brilliant. And I think we are seeing that starting to happen even with more classic brands like XXXX Gold.
[27:00] I think we are seeing some evolution happening and I know the Brewers Association and Lion as part of that is looking to see how we can make beer as relevant as possible for all people. XXXX Gold is the country’s biggest beer brand has a very important role to play in that. So how that plays out over time is going to be interesting.
[27:27] Obviously, we want to stay relevant to current drinkers but our current drinkers are evolving so they’re on this journey as well. So the way that gender is playing out and the relationship between men and women in their own homes has changed greatly over the last 50 years. I think hopefully that’s going to start to be reflected in all that beer does across the category.
Matt: [27:55] Does that mean we might see some women featured in the XXXX Island videos and things like that?
Jack: [28:02] Who knows? I think the great thing about XXXX Island is we’re experiencing is – I forget the percentage off the top of my head – but it’s amazing how many female guests we have on XXXX Island and I think what the perception was that it was going to be a place where mates take mates and it’s only blokes. It’s not the reality. Blokes who are being invited or are winning trips onto the island are taking their female friends or female partners along with mates. And what you have is a great dynamic up there with mixed gender groups.
[28:37] A lot of the times they’re older, not the 18 to 26es that we’re talking about with Summer out there. So it’s definitely playing out, so whether or not we take that into our marketing, I think we’re still probably working through.
Matt: [28:53] Jack Mesley, thank you very much for your time and go the Maroons tonight.
Jack: [28:58] Thanks, Matt. Thanks very much for your interest and for your support. Cheers.