Catharina Cramer shows how Warsteiner, a brewery that thrives on tradition, can diversify and appeal to contemporary tastes.
As a young girl, Catharina Cramer once organized a flea market on the grounds of her family’s company in a small town in western Germany. Having shared the executive suite with her father from 2006 until his death in November 2012, Cramer, 34, today represents the ninth generation of family leaders of a global brand and German beer icon: Warsteiner.
With its flagship brand of premium-brewed pilsner, Warsteiner has become such an important part of German culture that one of its advertising slogans has penetrated the German language as a play on words: “The Only Real Thing: Warsteiner.”
The slogan aptly describes a thriving 260-year-old company that remains true to its roots but is not afraid to branch out beyond traditional segments and markets — so long as they fit with Warsteiner’s core value of excellence.
Catharina’s ancestor Caspar Cramer built the original brewing pub in the center of Warstein village in 1803. But it was the industrial revolution in the second half of the 19th century that provided Warstein with the crucial transport links that helped to establish the brewery’s market.
Warsteiner has the largest share of exports among German private breweries, delivering to more than 60 countries. Its key markets are Europe and North America, where Warsteiner operates its own sales units and is seeking to expand further.
Balancing tradition with new trends
Cramer says the trick to the company’s longevity, status and steady growth is getting the balance right. On the one hand, she feels responsible toward the family legacy; on the other, she sees it as precisely her job to lead Warsteiner into new areas.
“I see myself as a family entrepreneur — someone who is leading a company with a history but who is also looking for new ways forward,” she says.
In contrast to other countries, the German beer market is occupied by a number of small companies and lacks the significant presence of global brewers. To stand out from the local competition, Warsteiner has made a tradition out of being innovative, particularly in design and packaging.
In 1984, the company hired Andy Warhol to paint the Warsteiner glass resembling a champagne flute rather than a typical beer glass.
The campaign was just one of Warsteiner’s efforts to change the brand’s perception.
I see myself as someone who is leading a company with history.
Advertisements depicting white-gloved waiters serving the glass on silver platters helped transform the product from a beverage for the working class to one that would not be out of place at the intermission of an opera.
The Warsteiner glass also opened the door to fine dining establishments, which have been a focus of the business and its growth ever since. Meanwhile, Cramer is directing her attention to the international expansion of Warsteiner by raising brand awareness and increasing the company’s range of alcohol-free beers and beverages that are sweetened with real fruit juices.
Taking the reigns
Cramer, the family’s youngest daughter, was presented as Warsteiner’s future boss at the tender age of 26. At the time, she had just finished her studies at London’s European Business School.
Her various internships took her to a promotion and event-marketing agency, a hotel operator, a Warsteiner importer’s agency, a market research firm, a tax advisory and an investment bank — all of which she saw as preparation for eventually joining the board of the family business.
If you met Cramer during her daily routine at the company headquarters, you might mistake her for one of Warsteiner’s hip, young marketing executives.
Indeed, she looks the part of a creative. In her appearance and her leadership style, Cramer works to combine creativity and innovation with the brand tradition of a high-quality, high-society beverage.
An example of this is her approach to social media, which is seen as an integral part of the company’s strategy.
“We are the ones who know our brand best,” Cramer explains. “Many companies would hire a communications agency for social media, but we do all the communications ourselves to stay authentic.”
Warsteiner spends about US$33m a year on advertising and marketing campaigns. When the company was looking to enhance its visibility through sales of its non-alcoholic line in 2011, it ran an advertisement with Ukrainian boxers the Klitschko brothers promoting Warsteiner’s isotonic beverage.
“It was a win-win for both the Klitschkos and us. We’ve had double-digit growth rates for that product line since the campaign began,” Cramer says.
Sports are an important tool for the company’s positioning as a premium lifestyle brand. In the 1990s, Warsteiner sponsored Formula 1, and later it linked the brand with equestrian sports.
It also attributes some of its current success to founding and hosting what has become Europe’s largest annual hot-air balloon festival, which draws up to 200,000 enthusiastic fans to Warstein.
As a result of the increasing thirst for craft beers in the UK, Warsteiner now sees the country as an opportunity for growth. By becoming an official supplier to golf’s European Tour, the company is looking to raise brand awareness in the UK, before extending its reach to countries including Italy and the Netherlands.
The sponsoring and marketing strategy is also focused on top arts and music festivals, as well as emerging art. Warsteiner regularly sponsors one of the largest rock festivals in Germany,
Rock am Ring, held annually in the Eifel the Blooom Award, a prize that celebrates young artists who create interdisciplinary works and provides them with recognition and mentorship.
The prize was Cramer’s brainchild and part of her strategy to branch out to new audiences and position the brand within the young, creative scene.
In October 2012, Warsteiner also sponsored the New York City Food Film Festival, at which visitors tasted the foods they saw on the screen. The US has been a key market for Warsteiner for more than 30 years, and the festival was a chance to show the brand’s sustainability, responsible use of resources and focus on food created with passion and craftsmanship – all central themes behind the event.
Whether culinary, fashion or artistic, Cramer is always on the lookout for trends during her business travels around the world. Her hope is to incorporate the ideas she encounters back into the brand, if they fit.
By injecting fresh ideas into the brand — while remaining true to its history — Cramer can have some fun with the tradition she has inherited and ensure that the company continues to thrive.
But she cautions: “It’s a fine balance. We’ve got to take risks — that’s clear. But on the other hand, we carry a big responsibility. Our name stands for it.”