Five questions for SP Brewery’s Ed Weggemans


There’s been a change at the top at PNG’s largest brewer. Business Advantage PNG catches up with Ed Weggemans, new Managing Director of Heineken-owned SP Brewery.

SP Brewery’s Ed Weggemans

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): You’ve had a lot of experience with Heineken (SP Brewery’s owner) in developing markets, and plenty of experience of beer too. What attracted you to this role in Papua New Guinea?

Ed Weggemans (EW): It was presented to me as the next logical step in my career development. Before coming to PNG, I was in Suriname in South America for three and a half years. Before that, I was in Nigeria for three years, in Dubai for three years, and in Taiwan also for three years – with various other jobs working from Amsterdam in between some of these expat postings.

Heineken has four global regions: Europe, Africa/Middle East, North and South America and the Asia-Pacific with regional headquarters in Singapore. I’m one of the few people in the company who has worked in every Heineken region.

BAPNG: Heineken is a massive company. Where does PNG fit in the overall organisation and how important is it to the regional group?

EW: Heineken is the number two brewery in the world. It has mega operations in big markets like Nigeria, the UK, France, Spain and Brazil, among others. At the same time, it operates very successfully in smaller countries, with smaller operations. SP Brewery would be in that second group, even though – with two breweries – it is not a small operation within the region.

Business-wise, we’ve been delivering the numbers in the past years and the region is depending on our good performance.

‘SP Lager is the beer of the nation.’

BAPNG: What is distinctive about the PNG market?

A trading post showing SP’s branding. Credit: S P Brewery

EW: Everybody’s so convinced about the SP brand that other brands find it difficult. The Heineken brand [in PNG] is a bit small versus the rest of the portfolio. Basically, all the brands are small versus SP Lager, which is a unique brand.

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When I meet Australians and they taste this beer [SP Lager], they stick with it because of its recipe and taste; it is in that sweet spot of having full taste and not being too bitter.

BAPNG: What does SP do to ensure the brand is positioned correctly with the public and gives back to the community?

EW: We have a marketing code, which basically states we promote responsible consumption. It also states that we do not engage in activities that may suggest the opposite: we don’t get involved in drinking games, we don’t sponsor any irresponsible combination of alcohol and events, and we don’t target people under the legal drinking age. We don’t communicate to children. When people reach the legal drinking age, then they will find the brands that fit with them and their tastes.

‘We have a big challenge – not to go out of stock.’

We have also committed to another three-year contract with the SP Hunters. This has been a very successful partnership and we see no reason to reconsider it. In terms of equity and brand positioning, the partnership fits with the two brands. SP Hunters is about national pride – it’s the team of the nation, as SP Lager is the beer of the nation.

BAPNG: Will there be any new offerings in PNG over the coming years?

EW: We have launched recently an innovative product, a cassava-based drink called Pawa Punch. It’s made from locally-grown cassava and doesn’t have hops, but it is fermented, so it has alcohol.

It’s a unique PNG recipe and is targeted at another segment: the home brews and the fruit wines. It is a lower-priced product, so it’s more accessible.

Sales have been beyond expectations for the first year, which means that we have a big challenge not to go out of stock. We’re ramping up production and the supply chain for cassava.

We will continue to look for opportunities to develop new and innovative products for the PNG market.

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