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To get a grasp of the market for beer in Colombia, let’s first look at the country context. Colombia has been somewhat of a melting pot culturally throughout its history, and again more recently with political issues in nearby countries such as Venezuela. Bogotá is one of the leading cities in the continent when it comes to multinational companies and job opportunities. The more recent history within the country has unfortunately put in on the map for the wrong reasons, though change has been radical over the past 15-20 years and it is fast becoming a popular (and safer) destination for tourists and travellers.
Such a mix of people makes for intriguing diversity in the party scene across the country – spanning from salsa capital of the world, Cali, modern cities like Medellín and up to the vibrant Caribbean coast of Cartagena. When it comes to drinking, Colombians love their beer, rum and of course the local gem that is Aguardiente. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, it wouldn’t feel like a proper Colombian party without it. Beer in Colombia is interesting compared with the rest of the continent, I’ve selected my key take-outs and ideas that might be replicable in other markets.
Refajo: Giving Radler a run for its money
Cola y Pola was one of the more interesting beer brands to be found in Colombia, with a great story of heritage and an interesting take on the beer-mix category. This is a category which is generally dominated by radler beers in large parts of the world (as well as the spirit-beers or ‘speers’ such as Desperados and Cubanisto). A beer of German origin – ‘radler’ is the German word for ‘shandy’ – they became all the rage across Europe over the past few years. At one point, every major beer brand was launching or looking into launching a radler variant for themselves. It was the perfect answer to a number of problems being faced:
1. Attracting non-beer drinkers to the category (notably females)
2. Offering a lighter, more refreshing beer for summertime
3. Providing a lower ABV variant amidst increasing importance of ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaigns and alcohol brands’ role in responsible drinking.
Mixing beer with a little lemonade tackles all three areas above head-on – it’s sweeter, it’s more refreshing and it’s half the strength.
In Colombia, however, mixing beer with lemonade is a relatively unheard-of phenomenon; and it is Refajo that addresses the same issue. Refajo is most typically a mix of lager and Colombiana – a fizzy soft drink popular in the country – although it is open to a little interpretation in the type of beer and ‘gaseosa’ used. Cola y Pola is one of the most popular brands to buy the product pre-mixed; which translates as Cola and Beer.
Pola is slang for beer in Colombia, originating from the nickname of Policarpa Salavarrieta; a female revolutionary who spied against the Spanish and was a huge figure in the gaining Colombian independence. Bavaria brewery used to have a beer called La Pola and although this no longer exists, the term has stuck and going for a couple of ‘polas’ is a much-heard phrase as the work day draws to a close. Could a Refajo like Cola y Pola work in a more mature beer market like Europe? Judging by the taste, it doesn’t seem like it would be too much of a risk for major beer providers to trial – although the name would likely need a little work!
Brand-building for BBC: Winning through independent outlets
Not the BBC as you might know it, but Bogotá Beer Company has the same level of reach across the Colombian capital. Not only does the brand have some great beers, named after parts of Bogotá and the surrounding area, but what is especially interesting about BBC is the sheer number of outlets they have. From the cosy and intimate ‘BBC Bodegas’ to larger pub-style beer gardens and even food truck courtyards, you can barely walk a block or two around the city without bumping into one of their outlets.
This is not a common thing for beer brands, especially in the craft beer world. The only brand who stands out well through its own on-trade outlets is Brewdog, whose numbers are slowly creeping up in numbers across the UK. But it is nothing on the scale of what BBC have done here. Such presence serves as constant advertising for their brand. They’ve taken a completely different look at beer in Colombia and tackled three very distinctive occasions with their range of different outlets and really placed themselves as almost synonymous with the capital. The city is as ingrained in their brand as they are in the city.
Aguila: The star of the World Cup
The World Cup is a huge time for brands across industries, but especially so in the world of beer. There’s usually an army of brands vying to be a nation’s beer of choice throughout the summer. For me, Aguila was the hands-down winner for beer in Colombia, with one of my favourite World Cup tie-ups from across South and Central America. On top of a ticket giveaway to 50 fans (their main campaign) Aguila’s rollback to Brazil 2014 pricing initiative was not a big budget above-the-line campaign, but more along the lines of guerrilla marketing, with posters and banners up in each and every bar to remind you that they’ve got your back – and of course that they were the only beer in Colombia to be drinking this World Cup.
Whilst the value element is good (we all love a bargain), the smartest part here was the nostalgia it brought with it. Rio 2014 was Colombia’s first World Cup in 16 years – a big occasion for the nation – and one in which they secured their highest ever FIFA World Cup finish. They were one of the teams of the tournament in the early stages and came up just short against host nation Brazil in the quarter-finals; no disgrace at all. It also saw Colombia’s poster-boy James Rodriguez claim the Golden Boot for top scorer, with some of the best goals of the tournament.
So whilst at first glance it is a nice simple initiative to give consumers a perception of value when over-drinking before and during Russia 2018, it also helped galvanise a nation that had gone utterly football mad in the last few years during their team’s Golden Generation. Well played, Aguila!
Red ales taking over
Okay, the title here may be a slight exaggeration. However, red beers are big business in Colombia. Leading brands such as Club Colombia offer a ‘cerveza roja’ as well as a wealth of craft brands such as 3 Cordilleras and Bogotá Beer Company. These are particularly prevalent in the not-quite-so-hot areas of the country away from the north coast and the larger, more metropolitan cities of Bogotá and Medellín.
They generally aren’t quite as punchy as some of the red beers I’ve had in what I’d call the more ‘sophisticated’ beer markets in the UK, mainland Europe and USA, which makes them far more accessible beers for a nation that – much like the rest of South America – is still rooted in its national lagers. With major beer providers looking to push premium and craft beers more and more, could this ‘easing in’ approach be applied across other developing markets?
Favourite beer in Colombia
I found myself a huge fan of a many a beer in Colombia, Aguila and Aguila Light are tasty beers for a good price, with Club Colombia (both Dorada and Roja) well worth the extra expenditure for a top quality beer. With that being said, 3 Cordilleras’ Mestiza APA was a cut above the rest, and you can’t beat an American Pale Ale in my opinion!
Enjoyed this branding analysis of beer in Colombia?
Check out our branding beer guides for other Latin American markets: