Ecuador can be roughly split between the Lowlands of the coast and the Highlands inland. These two geographies have produced very different ways of life and mindsets – which filters through into food and beverage too. Interestingly, the pretty, historical capital of Quito is not Ecuador’s biggest city by a long way, with mega-city Guayaquil leading on both population and economic opportunities from the South. Whilst not a particularly visited place by tourists – who tend to pass through only on their way to some of Ecuador’s coastal towns – it is the beating heart of the country. Wherever you are in Ecuador, however (and despite the differences across regions), the Ecuadorian people are friendly, upbeat and love their beer!
For the love of Pilsener
Ecuador is all about Pilsener. Out of everywhere we have visited in South America, Ecuador seems to have one of the most monopolised beer market, with the brand Pilsener popping up as a common part of daily life. It is a brand that the people know and love and has been around for a very long time, forging itself into the hearts of the Ecuadorian people – so much so that for a large chunk of the people that’s all they’ll drink.
In a move that very few brands could carry off successfully, Pilsener recently re-designed its cans and bottles in vibrant colours whilst taking the brand name out (yes, completely out!) of the logo, replacing it with the phrase ‘La fiesta de todos’ (‘the party for everyone’/’Everyone’s party’). The incredible awareness around the brand meant that they could remove the name in order to help create an engaging and compelling campaign around the Ecuadorian national carnival, without sacrificing what the brand name brings to the party. It doubled up as a great way to engage younger audiences for whom the brand’s heritage in the market – 2013 marked 100 years of Pilsener – doesn’t have the same nostalgia factor. I can think of only a handful of global brands who could pull off such a move.
Always look on the light side
Whereas Pilsener has about 55% of the market, another third can be attributed to Pilsener Light. Not in many markets has the concept of light beer taken off quite so much – at least not in Europe. Speaking with a local taxi driver, he claimed that the Ecuadorian people drink more Light than normal beer – and whilst this isn’t strictly accurate nationwide, certainly in the warmer coastal regions, Pilsener Light dominates. You can see why, when after a long, hot day on the beach a cold Pilsener Light slips down an absolute treat. Interestingly in such a macho culture, Light isn’t seen as being in any way effeminate; with men and women drinking it in equal numbers.
Linking up with key events in Ecuador
As I mentioned already in relation to the Pilsener brand, carnival presents a key time of year for beer brands. A widespread event which moves across cities, it really is a big deal for the people of Ecuador. As well as Pilsener’s brand endeavours during this time, I wanted to mention the Pilsener Light campaign as another great example of a carnival campaign.
Despite carrying the Pilsener name, the brands are actually managed separately, although this didn’t stop the Pilsener Light team from doing a similarly great job on their carnival tie-ups, with the tagline ‘Vamos De Sol a Sol’ (Let’s go from sun to sun), evoking the party essence and free spirit that the brand represents, whilst also alluding to its sessionability as a lower ABV light beer. It was clear that the Pilsener family (Light, Zero and regular) had you covered throughout the entire carnival season.
Beer and food pairings
A couple of years ago I attended a fascinating workshop at London’s Imbibe Live! event around food and beer pairing. Long accepted in the world of wine, food pairing is also becoming an increasingly hot topic for beer brands, as beer producers (especially craft) look to premiumise the category. Whilst I didn’t come across anything quite as progressive as this, in Ecuador, it is Pilsener Light that fills the position as accompaniment to food. The brand is heavily advertised in the on-trade – in cafés and typical restaurants – as being great with food and going well with everything: ‘Una mini Light pega con todo’. The brand works hard to open up this occasion and differentiate in the consumer’s mind the decision to go for a Pilsener or a Pilsener Light.
Cerveza Club takes on the role of craft beer in Ecuador
Craft beer is traditionally about taste exploration; offering more complex and varied flavours than you’d tend to find in a mass-produced beer. And in the majority of markets, this is the role that it fills. In Ecuador, however, you don’t need to delve into the craft scene for real taste exploration (as was also the case in Bolivia with their quinoa-, cactus- and coca leaf-flavoured beer!).
Club offers a more premium alternative in Ecuador with a variety that includes dark beer, red beer and even a limited edition beer with a hint of raw cacao. Craft beers are beginning to grow in areas such as Quito, so whilst Club has done well to introduce consumers to the notion of taste exploration, it will have a challenge to keep their wealthier consumers from switching to craft in the future.
Case study: Latitud Cero
Of the craft beers on offer in Ecuador, one of the coolest brands I came across was Latitud Cero. It boasts a modern, stylish design and brand story around its Ecuadorian heritage – its name being an ode to the country’s position on the equator, a latitude of zero. However, I wanted to flag this for another reason.
The term ‘cero’ is also used to mark all alcohol free beers in Spanish-speaking countries. In isolation, this probably wouldn’t cause too much confusion given that the ‘Cero’ forms part of the brand’s logo, whereas most alcohol free drinks have this as an add-on to the logo in an alternative font (see below for Pilsener Cero example). When Latitud Cero happens to sit alongside Pilsener Cero on a shop shelf, you could very easily be forgiven for assuming it was another alcohol free beer and glance past it, or even worse, purchase it on this assumption.
As a brand manager, you have little control often as to where your products are placed in-store, potentially in key outlets such as larger supermarket chains, but certainly less so in the corner shop of a remote town. It is something they no doubt will have thought about when developing the brand – but a warning to foreign or local brands entering the market to make sure you understand the local market visual cues and terminology.
Favourite beer in Ecuador: Pilsener
Much like the Ecuadorian people, I found myself very fond of Pilsener. And despite having a particularly good IPA from Quiteña, the power and the pull of the Pilsener brand won me over. In true Ecuadorian style, I’d tend to opt for a Pilsener Light when in the warmer coastal regions – at least while the sun’s still up.
Want more like this branding analysis of beer in Ecuador?
Check out our branding beer guides for other Latin American markets: