Heineken’s Brief Reign in Havana

Vicente Morin Aguado

heinekenHAVANA TIMES — Heineken has been the top-selling beer in Havana for some days now. The city’s Carlos III shopping mall – possibly the largest in the country, with more than ten thousand square meters of commercial establishments – appears to have no other beer brand in stock, and one runs into the familiar green bottle at every street corner in the capital.

The Dutch product got its chance following the unexplained disappearance of Cuba’s home brews, particularly the highly-popular Bucanero and Cristal brands, manufactured jointly with Canada’s Labatt Blue beer company.

There are no official reports on this new product crises. We can only assume our proud Canadian partners will not simply give up their privileged position in Cuba’s market, where foreign competitors must sell at prices higher than those of products manufactured on the island.

In view of the above, it is indeed news that Heinecken, sold at 1.65 Cuban Convertible Pesos the bottle (roughly the same amount in US dollars) should now be the top-selling beer (at least temporarily). The rise of the Dutch product to the top was gradual, as the stocks of competitors with slightly lower prices, such as Becks and Corona, first had to run out.

Speculation prompted by shortages of this coveted elixir has reached cafeterias and restaurants, where one has to pay as much as two CUC or more to have a beer. This begs the question: is there or isn’t there beer? For the time being, it seems as though whatever beer’s left is being put away and offered to the more anxious customers willing to pay the higher price set by waiters.

Carlos III shopping center.
Carlos III shopping center.

To top things off, other products, sold in Cuban pesos, have also become scarce or disappeared completely. I am referring to Cuba’s Cacique and Mayabe brand beers, sold at 20 and 18 Cuban pesos, respectively. After the unexpected shortages hit, many drinkers began to hoard the product. Employees at stores and eateries have been doing something similar, as was to be expected.

I’ve been seeing all manner of similar crises in Cuba’s services sector since I can remember (for as many as fifty years, perhaps), and I am positive these beer shortages will not last long. We are talking about a highly important product in terms of earnings in the country’s retail sector, a product which, coupled with other alcoholic beverages, makes a decisive contribution to our internal financial balance.

I don’t think Labatt Blue representatives are willing to yield their ground to Heineken beer. The proud northerners will drive off their competitors from the Netherlands and the foamy and amber-colored waters will again find their level, announcing the end of Heineken’s brief reign in Havana.

13 thoughts on “Heineken’s Brief Reign in Havana

  • More likely, it is: Yo tengo y el pueblo que se joda!!

  • I can confirm there was no Bucanero or Cristal in Havana recently but
    plenty of both in many communities I visited in Holguin and Bayamo
    provinces. But those observations were a day apart and shortages do
    appear and disappear quickly.

    Cannot be tourism as that is a very small part of cerveza consumption in Cuba.

  • Ah! So Bacardi is positioning themselves as owners of the Hatuey brand, just as they successfully defended the Bacardi brand in the 1960s when Castro tried to market Cuban rum under than name, and as Bacardi has been moving to defend their claim to the Havana Club brand they bought from the Arechabala family in 1997.

    The Bacardi family know that sooner or later the Castros will be gone, the embargo will end and they will return to Cuba. When they do, they intend to be in a strong position to reclaim their lost property stolen by the Castros.

  • Note that Hatuey is brewed in the US:

    “The new version of Hatuey from Bacardi U.S.A. features a premium formulation with a striking resemblance to the legendary brand whose roots date back to 1927 in Santiago de Cuba.”
    “Hatuey returns to market with new taste”, ELAINE WALKER, Miami Herald, Wednesday, 06.22.11

    “Bacardi’s Hatuey beer expands to Broward”, Doreen Hemlock, Staff writer, Sun Sentinel, 5:39 a.m. EST, November 9, 2012.

    Never tried a US Hatuey.

  • Ownership issues aside, you can certainly assume that as technical advances in the brewing processes are developed by American Anheuser-Busch scientists, to the extent practical, the Cuban beer Bucanero will benefit. The notion that Cuban technological backwardness is due to the embargo is duly challenged by this relationship with their Canadian, European, and American partners. When Cuba lacks the machines or the technical know-how commonplace elsewhere, it is more likely due to a lack of money and not a lack of opportunity.

  • Hahahahahahahahaha!

  • The original Hatuey brewery was owned by the Bacardi family. Castro stole the brewery along with the famous rum distillery and ran them both into the ground, as he has everything else on the island.

    I do find it interesting that despite the embargo, US capitalists Anheuser-Busch is invested in the Cuban brewery industry. Technically, the corporate headquarters are in Brazil & Belgium, but the merger between AB and InBev resulted in a large stake in the new company going to American investors. Shares in AB-InBev trade on the Brussels stock exchange, but investors can buy on the New York Stock Exchange special share ADR’s (proxy-share certificate traded just like shares).

    So when tourists in Varadero drink a Bucanero, some of the money they paid for that beer goes to the Canadian partner, Labatt’s, which is majority owned by AB-InBev.

    Embargo? What embargo?

  • Tourism, overall, had increased by less than 2% from 2012 to 2013. The likely increase for 2014 will be less than the previous year. Tourism is not the reason for the beer shortage.

  • I have to wonder if the shortage of domestic beer in Havana is reflected further east on the island. Could it be that by the time they finish sending all they need from Holguin to the tourist areas, that they just isn’t much left for Havana?

    Indirectly, what I’m getting at is, tourism is ever increasing in Cuba, perhaps it’s starting to outstrip the production capacity of CBSA?

  • Moses, Cuba’s economic national slogan under Castro is “no hay”, remember?
    Potatoes – no hay
    Beer – no hay
    Malanga – no hay
    Vegetables – no hay
    Transport – no hay
    Freedom – no hay

  • Moreover: Heineken isn’t good beer.
    Cuba lost its best beer when Hatuey was abandoned. Bucanero now has the “honor” of being the better beer in Cuba.
    Cuba has imported lots of beer from all kinds of breweries. A Spanish company even hatched a plan to export “dehydrated beer” to Cuba to have water added back there. As far as I know nothing ever materialized.

  • Labatt’s is owned by the Brazillian/Belgian multinational, AB InBev, which is the largest brewer in the world, with 25% of the global market share. Labatt’s still operates as the Canadian subsidiary of AB InBev. Interestingly, AB InBev was formed when InBev purchased the American brewery giant Anheuser-Busch.

    In 2003, Labatts formed a partnership with the Cuban brewery, Cervecería Bucanero S.A to expand the plant in Holguin.

    Heineken is still owned and brewed by the original and relatively small Dutch firm, Heineken International.

    So the current popularity of Heineken in Cuba is a case of a Dutch “David” winning out over the AV Inbev multinational “Goliath”.

  • Last week it was a shortage of condoms. This week the beer has disappeared. Wait, I get it. Cut back on the beer and you ultimately need less condoms. Those Castro boys are geniuses.

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