At the Warsteiner Brewery headquarters in Warstein in Germany’s Sauerland region, the 36-year-old Catharina Cramer is now the boss. Ms. Cramer, whose father, Albert, died two years ago, said she embraces a communal, team-oriented leadership style.
Handelsblatt: Ms. Cramer, as the chief executive of a brewery, you are a “A Queen Among Beers.” You have gotten rid of Warsteiner’s well-known slogan. Why?
Ms. Cramer: The phrase was a part of the logo on the bottles, but the last time it was really used was during the 1970s. My father came up with “The Only True Warsteiner” together with his own advertising agency. That’s what I grew up with. And now it is “Do The Only True Thing.”
You changed not only the slogan, but also the logo. Why?
Above all, we changed the “s” that had been written in old German lettering. Because in foreign countries, there was always a problem: People drank the beer, thought it tasted good, but then ordered a “Warf-teiner.” Because of the ancient lettering in the logo. And if you enter that in Google — with an “f” — then there is an amazing number of entries. So we absolutely had to optimize that. We now have one spelling throughout the world.
If you make everything so uniform, then you become more and more attractive as a takeover target for one of the international brewing companies.
That’s great! We will never sell the firm — but attractiveness is never a bad thing. When I am married, I still go to the hairstylist to make myself beautiful. And if someone else finds me attractive, I still stay with my husband.
The new direction is a few months old — and sales of the Warsteiner brand declined by more than 8 percent in the first half of this year. Can you be content with that?
I view the decline quite calmly. We had a strong first half-year in 2013, and this year we raised our prices. We knew that we would have losses. And the second half of 2013 was quite weak. This year as well, we will evaluate things after 12 months.
Could it be that the discussion about the outbreak of Legionella in your home city of Warstein in September of last year is the real reason for the minus?
There are no Legionella bacteria in our products or in our brewery. But when Legionella is found in a city whose name is carried by our product, then one must remain calm. We had transparent communication and received great support from our trading partners. We were quite proud to have completed last year with a plus in sales revenues, in spite of everything. But you wouldn’t wish an incident like that on anyone. My heart was really beating hard.
That shock had scarcely subsided, then the antitrust division slapped a heavy fine on you and other breweries because of price fixing. Was it €20 million, or even more?
I don’t know (laughs). But it was a quite a gulp from the bottle. And I would have preferred to invest the money elsewhere.
So you’ve put that behind you?
We did not agree with the procedure of the antitrust division and the accusations in all instances. But we decided not to appeal the decision. We swallowed the bitter pill.
Did you subsequently raise prices in order to be able to pay the antitrust penalty?
The one has nothing to do with the other.
How is your current financial situation? For instance, you took in money from a privately placed loan in the United States. Does that have to be redeemed?
We don’t talk about that. We are in a very good position and don’t have to worry. We are a family firm, fit as a fiddle. We pay for investments out of the cash flow and don’t enter into dependencies. Moreover, we have a buffer, in order to be ready for acquisitions.
What do you plan to buy?
Do you have a tip? We’re ready for action. We have a war chest, you could say.
Your father’s vision was to establish a beer throughout Germany. He achieved that in an impressive manner. What is your vision?
I want to make an international brand out of the national one. We can grow further in any case.
“I view the decline quite calmly. We had a strong first half-year in 2013, and this year we raised our prices. We knew that we would have losses. ”
In a worldwide context, you are a minnow. AB Inbev is a hundred times larger. They are much more capable of international expansion.
We have already been in several countries for two decades, and in other countries we are starting step by step — in partnerships such as in Spain with Mahou San Miguel. In the United States, there is the trend toward craft beers, toward a great diversity in beers such as we have always had in Germany. We can ride this wave and grow.
How is your growth in foreign countries?
Last year, sales abroad totaled 600,000 hectoliters, and we are growing continuously — in the first half of this year, with almost 1 percent. In Finland, we are cooperating with the Olvi Brewery. For years, they had a partnership with Heineken, but then Heineken bought another brewery in Finland. And Olvi chose us as a premium German beer in place of Heineken — that’s a great compliment!
It’s a compliment to be compared to a Dutch beer?
Heineken is an excellent brand, I believe, and well-situated internationally. What they do throughout the world is emotional and has a positive appeal. In Germany, of course, Heineken isn’t relevant (laughs).
Let’s compare the business in Germany. The competition is promoting flavored soda as an alcohol-free refreshment beverage. You aren’t.
We also had that in the works, but then said “no” and haven’t regretted the decision one instant. Our alcohol-free Radler is similar. And there we are enjoying double-digit growth. This is a problem with the German brewing industry: When one brewery does something, then all the others must do the same. But sometimes you have to go your own way.
Please explain to us: Does canned beer really fit your claim to premium quality?
Definitely! You can’t get beer in a better container. No light gets in, no outer influences, everything is wonderful.
But it doesn’t taste good.
I love beer from a can! When the can is really cold and the hissing sound when you open it — splendid!
You have been a mother for more than one year. How does that change being the top manager?
I have to be structured and organize external appointments much better. But most of the time, my child plays here in the office in a playpen. We are a family firm; this is a part of it. Yes, a luxury. But three weeks after giving birth, I was back at work. Have you ever been to a baby pee party?
When a child is born, the parents issue invitations, open up a keg, make a toast to the offspring, and everyone drinks as much as they can. It’s very, very fun.
This article was translated by George Fredrich Takis. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com