That Good Old Keineken Beer—Well, While It Lasted
It may be due to my Dutch heritage; it may be because it is just good beer, but I just love Heineken beer.
Back in February of this year, when our economy and the Dutch economy were going to hell in a hand basket, I wrote an article taking some comfort in the fact that Heineken sales in 2008 had risen 27 percent, boosted mainly by the company’s acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle.
Six months later, as both the U.S. and Dutch economies have improved, so has Heineken—its taste and its business condition.
A couple of weeks ago, Heineken reported a 20 percent increase in net profit for the first half of 2009—better than expected results, according to analysts.
Chief Heineken executive Jean-Francois van Boxmeer said: “The strength of our brand portfolio has enabled us to support our margins, achieving a stable top line performance despite lower volumes.”
Talking about a strong “brand portfolio,” Heineken zealously protects its brand name and doesn’t look kindly upon any trademark infringement.
Last week, some Swiss entrepreneurs found this out the hard way.
Apparently a group in the Swiss village of Engelberg, near Luzern, decided to bottle some beer under the brand “Keineken.” Put the German word “kein” and the brand Heineken together, and you get the contraction, the spoof brand “Keineken”, or a pun for no Heineken.
The Dutch NRC Handelsblad and Spiegel Online International report that just a few hours after Keineken sent out a press release about their new beer, Heineken’s lawyers were on the phone, demanding an immediate halt to the distribution of Keineken and a withdrawal of the trademark.
Apparently Keineken did not act fast enough and Heineken went to court. A judge in the canton of Obwalden ordered the confiscation of a supply of 1,200 Keineken bottles and matching glasses.
That same night Obwalden canton police entered the brewer’s garage to execute the judge’s orders.
That certainly put the dampers on a Keineken beer party that had been planned the next day to commemorate the first anniversary of the acquisition by Heineken of the Swiss brewer Eichhof.
According to Keineken’s Conrad Engler, that acquisition meant that “the last big independent Swiss brewer ended up in foreign hands.” It is that and a previous acquisition that inspired the Keineken campaign.
Instead the celebrants at the Keineken party drank Unser Bier.
Unser Bier (Our Beer) was founded by “local beer aficionados” eight years ago, when another giant European brewer, Carlsberg, took over the Feldschlösschen brewery in Basel.
According to the NRC Handelsblad, “The small scope of the Keineken campaign is no argument, said a Heineken spokesperson. ‘We see this as trademark infringement and we filed a complaint accordingly.’”
The judge is expected to take several weeks to reach a final verdict, but Heineken is confident it will win the case.
Engler expects to get the last laugh. “Heineken scored an own goal with their legal action,” he said. “The media attention has brought us dozens of new members. Our goal — to have an Engelberger Klosterbräu by 2012 — has now come just a bit closer. With or without Keineken.”
Hopefully the Engler group will not name their next beer Ludweiser, or Zwei Equis, or Müller Licht, unless they want to brew another legal brawl.
And especially not Meineken—who would ever drink a beer that puts the brakes on one’s enjoyment?
Image: Courtesy Heineken International