'We're no Perrier,' says brewer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am

BOTTLED Heineken, one of Holland's most famous exports, is back on the shelves after a month-long absence due to a glass splinter scare.

More than 120,000 bottles of the beer were poured down the drain when the brewer recalled all 33 cl bottles in Hong Kong because of possible splinters caused by defective glass.

But the firm's export manager for Hong Kong, Eric Nelissen, who supervised last week's relaunch, downplayed any comparison between Heineken's recall and the problems encountered by mineral water firm Source Perrier.

''Perrier had to withdraw all their product; we have not withdrawn completely,'' he said.

The bottles withdrawn account for only 15 per cent of Heineken consumption in the territory.

It was, however an expensive operation. Before the relaunch, Heineken airlifted 30,000 cartons of beer into Hong Kong.

''I won't tell you how much that cost, but there are good reasons for doing it because you don't want to be off the market for too long.

''We are a company that is 130 years old and the brand is so precious that cost is never the first priority. In this kind of case, you have to protect your brand image at any cost.'' In 1990, Perrier recalled all bottles after discovering contamination by the toxic solvent benzene. The company's response is cited as a textbook case of crisis management.

It continued to advertise throughout the recall period, showing an apologetic tear-shaped drop of water. When the product returned to the shelves the bottler launched the massive ''Eau! Perrier'' campaign to rehabilitate its image.

Heineken withdrew all advertising during the recall period. Mr Nelissen said the company would now be stepping up its promotion campaign and monitoring the effectiveness of its advertising.

''After such an incident, you should not change that image because people get very confused. It is not a situation comparable with Perrier; it was a minor disturbance and we want to get back to business as usual.'' After three years of rapid growth in sales, Heineken claims to be the number one imported beer in Hong Kong with more than 10 per cent of the beer market.