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Connecting Through the Sun's Energy

A Talk with Alessandro Manunta, Portfolio Development Manager

— November 1, 2019 — Lifestyle
As the gloomy weather takes over, Sol invited guests to its inaugural UK activation -- the ‘Sol Bar.’ It was a pop-up bar where the sun never sets to combat the colder seasons with the positivity of the sun. Alessandro Manunta is the International Brands Portfolio Development Manager at HEINEKEN and he plays a role in introducing the Sol Bar. We talked to Alessandro about the Shoreditch pop-up, the brand story behind it, and the company’s approach to branding and communicating with its consumers.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role with HEINEKEN and what led you to it?

I've been now with HEINEKEN for about seven years, been in the industry for a bit more than 50 years. I've been working in different countries, from Italy to England, to Australia, to the Netherlands now. My role today is Portfolio Development Manager, but a way to keep it simple is Global Brand Owner for Sol. Essentially, I'm responsible for the Sol brand globally, from developing the strategy to developing their communications, that then is being shaped with the markets, and implemented in all the markets around the world.

Can you explain what the Sol Bar pop-up is? What is the brand story behind it?

The starting point is related to Sol’s brand position, which aims to connect people to the positive energy of the sun. From a global point of view, we wanted to co-develop with one of our markets, an idea that was bringing this concept to life for consumers in a relevant way. Now digging into consumer research and studies, we found out that two-thirds of people in the UK at best think they receive one hour of sunlight per day in the winter, so we thought maybe that’s something that we can play with. We've always played with spring and summer, invite people to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. The question was what about wintertime when it gets dark and the weather gets miserable. So the challenge there is if you can't bring the people out in the sun, can you bring the sun to the people? That's what we're asking essentially and that's what when came up with the idea of this bar – what if we can bring them a bar where the sun never sets. Then from there, we thought, what would that look like? And then we came up with the idea, what if we create this space and use specialist SAD lights that stimulate the release of serotonin and give people a Vitamin D boost. At the same time, we had scents and sounds that are associated with the good vibes of summer. That's how we created this bar, which goes really well along with our position within Sol, which is about tasting the sun and getting people to taste the sun, even when the sun is not there.

How does your team generate great ideas? Are there certain rituals to make creativity happen?

We try to always have a very clear starting point so that everyone understands the direction. For us, our starting point and direction are that we want to connect people with the positive energy of the sun. Together with that, we have brainstorming sessions with markets and agencies. We have the luck of working with older markets. Not that we brainstorm with them all the time, but we have the opportunity to hear about ideas -- some could be small, some could be big. But there's no stone that we want to leave unturned, and sometimes we get some ideas that are a little bit daring, a little bit out there, but if they fit with our positioning, and if we think that they bring to life our mission in a relevant way for the consumers, then we are working to explore them further.

What would you say are some of HEINEKEN’s most important focal points when it comes to branding itself and communicating with consumers?

The starting point is that HEINEKEN owns more than 300 beer brands, and when you look at the international portfolio, those brands have a very varied range of taste, personality, and position. When you then go specifically into Sol, a fundamental way to communicate with consumers is to be authentic and stay true to who we are. We started a journey about three years ago where we decided to go back to our origin, which is the sun. It's in our history, it’s in our name, it's in our heritage. It’s been fundamental for us to put the sun at the core of our proposition. Believe it or not, before that, it wasn’t a core focus. Another fundamental area is to bring to life this connection with the sun, in simple, clear and relevant ways that work for the consumers. Some examples of that – about a year ago we organized an expedition on top of a volcano in Chile to tell the story of this group of courageous, brave people that were going to drink a Sol on top of Cerro Toco Volcano in Chile. Why on top of the volcano in Chile? Because during that specific time of the year, that was the closest point of the earth to the sun. So some initiatives are very storytelling, some are more experiential. Another initiative is our Secret Solstice Festival partnership in Iceland that happens during a time of the year in Iceland when the sun never sets. So, for us, it's about unique experiences where Sol can play a role, and unique stories that we can tell consumers and feel authentic and genuine and part of who we are.

What direction do you think your industry is headed in the next 10 years?

There are many trends in the beer industry that can be picked up by brands. For Sol, there are two that are the most relevant at this point in time. The first one is that the sunshine beer category is continuing to expand. The category is the size of about 800 million hectolitres worldwide, to give you a number, and it continues to have double-digit growth. And we are seeing consumers are more and more looking for sunshine beers and the sunshine experience. It’s great news that the category is expanding because Sol plays at the core of this segment, there are lots of things that we can do within this space. From marketing and consumer initiatives to maybe in the future range innovation. The other trend that will definitely influence the industry and is relevant to us is sustainability. We're not playing there yet, but it's a hint of what we're going to do in the future – sustainability. With Sol, once again, we just need to look at what we are, a brand that is connected to the sun, and for us, there is a great opportunity to use the energy of the sun to do something good. This is a hint to what's going to be the next initiative; we are preparing and working hard for what’s to come in a few months. It’s something that we want to dial-up in the brand. It's something that is going to be more and more important for the brand, and for sure for the beer industry in general.
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