Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 17 News List

The changing face of Taiwan Beer

The former monopoly Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp now has to fight for local market share and young female representatives dressed in tiny outfits are leading the charge

By Jackie Lin and Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Hally Lin

The changing face of Taiwan Beer is epitomized by a beaming Joanne Tsai, who can be found most weekends serving up the local beverage at seafood restaurants in Taipei, kitted out in a tiny outfit.

Taiwan Beer girls dress in the company's green and white livery, with short skirts and exposed midriffs and scarves on their heads to prevent hair falling in patrons' meals and green wristbands that hold a bottle opener.

Not just anyone can be a Taiwan Beer girl. They must be reasonably tall, with a good appearance and strong academic background. They represent the new look of Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp (TTL, 台灣菸酒公司) and as such there are strict rules to protect the company's image: Taiwan Beer girls may not accept tips, sit down with customers, or drink on duty. A TTL representative always accompanies them on assignments.

While foreign beer companies like Budweiser, Coors and Heineken have long promoted their products by employing beer girls, it's a new marketing strategy for TTL, which used to have a monopoly on selling tobacco and alcohol, but now finds itself having to adapt to changed circumstances and fight for market share.

Part of this battle is about overhauling its image as the beverage of choice for middle-aged men with betel-nut stained teeth and trying to re-cast the drink to appeal to a younger generation of drinkers. Hence the Taiwan Beer girls.

The tobacco and wine monopoly bureau was established during Japanese colonial rule and was taken over by the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1945 and renamed the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau (菸酒公賣局) in 1947.

Until 1987, when the nation's beer market was opened to foreign imports, Taiwan Beer held 99 percent of the market, said Hsu An-hsuen (徐安旋), vice president of TTL's distribution department.

Foreign beers gradually increased their stake in the market and hit a peak at 26 percent in 2002, when the nation joined the WTO.

In that year, China was permitted to export beer to Taiwan and quickly snatched an 8 percent share, with the best-seller Tsingtao taking 6 percent.

But China's brewers were hurt by reports that its drinks contained the carcinogen methanol. Now, China's 13 beer brands account for just 3 percent of the local market, according to TTL's vice president Martin Tsai (蔡木霖).

Heineken is currently the best-selling foreign beer with 4 percent of the market, on the back of its aggressive marketing ploys aimed at young people in clubs and pubs. The world's number one DJ Tiesto, for example, was sponsored by Heinekin for his world tour which took in Taiwan.

In contrast, rock star Wu Bai (伍佰) has been the public face of Taiwan Beer since 1998. "He has successfully conveyed the fresh image of the products and consolidated the company's middle-aged customers," Tsai said.

TTL Chairman Morgan Hwang (黃營杉) took over the reigns of the company when the state-run monopoly was corporatized in July 2002. A planned privatization set for next month will not happen because of strong opposition from employees. It will eventually go ahead, he said, although a new timetable has not been finalized.

Hwang said that as a result of the company's marketing strategies, TTL had regained market share since 2002. "Last year's revenues were NT$21.8 billion, or 82.8 percent of the nation's beer market, and we look to expand to NT$24.4 billion by December [this year]."

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