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Belgian brewer in Vietnam persuades locals to swap cheap beer for a premium craft brew
When most local beer in Vietnam is as cheap as water, it’s hard to convince people to take a chance on an artisanal specialty brew made with fresh ingredients.
That was the challenge for Belgo, a Belgian craft brewery in Vietnam, which came up with a novel publicity campaign. It launched the beer-currency promotion – a special vending machine - allowing beer lovers to exchange any mass market beer for a cold Belgo.
The brand was confident that consumers would taste the difference and some would be persuaded to upgrade from the local $1 beers to the more expensive craft product, costing around $2.5.
Beer-lovers from across the city found whatever mass market beer they could from local convenience stores and bars and flocked to the machine to finally try a quality Belgo without having to really pay for it.
Belgo is brewed in-house with fresh ingredients, some shipped straight from Belgium. Each beer honours the rich tradition and history of the country’s brewing industry. It even has a Belgian brew master on board to make sure every beer meets Belgian standards.
“Belgo is about adding a twist,” said chief executive and co-founder Gauthier Lagasse. “We knew that in a market where mass market beers are widely available, we needed to honour our personality and be disruptive to get people to try our beer.”
The beer-currency vending machine was launched on Ho Chi Minh City’s most prominent pedestrian street. Belgo has three beer pubs across the city, where it serves its brews and authentic Belgian food for locals and expats.
The brand followed-up the publicity stunt by launching a similar promotion in its pubs, leading mass market beer drinkers right to the temple of Belgian beer. Patrons walked in with any regular beer and out with a cold Belgo, after sampling, they hoped, a portion of Belgian truffle fries.
“We are a small brand, but our ambitions are large”, said Belgo’s marketing director Magdalena Bialasiewicz. “We believe this beer-currency platform is an excellent concept to show that we don’t need a big budget to stand out and show people Belgo’s quality.”
Proud Belgians behind the Belgo brand
Gauthier Lagasse worked in the sales and marketing department of a large food company in Belgium before relocating to Vietnam around 10 years ago. Co-frounder Francois Schwennicke was already working in the country, having moved there to set up a workshop for Delvaux, Belgium's world-famous leather goods brand.
For their new enterprise, the pair bought a craft brewery (Hof Ten Dormaal) in Belgium, which was dismantled, transported to Vietnam and then rebuilt identically.
They now produce a range of 11 craft brews, the most popular being Blonde, Amber, Cherry and Session IPA.
As well as the usual administrative challenges in setting up a business in a foreign country, Lagasse and Schwennicke had an initial hurdle to overcome. “As there was no craft beer industry when we were starting, there were no trained people. We had to teach our team everything from A to Z,” they commented.
Another issue was the humidity in the country, impacting how they stored ingredients and maintained equipment.
As for the future, the ambitious duo have clear goals: “We want to continue sharing our passion for Belgium through a larger distribution of our beers on the local market while continuing to open more venues offering a unique and authentic Belgian experience.”