By students, for students.

Heineken: a history in a bottle

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm


Heineken takes brand seriously. In a industry which is dominated by local brands, it has struggled against structural restrictions, national tastes and trading costs to emerge as a global player.

Among the Dutch brewer’s most recent creative projects was a celebration of its 140th anniversary at the end of 2012, focussing on its distinctive bottle. The Heineken Future Bottle Design Challenge 2013 invited fans of the brand to remix Heineken’s bottle by using images of the brand’s past as inspiration. The result is modern, sleek and designed to look at home in trendy clubs and bars.

Product design has a special place in the evolution of the lager. The bottle has been free to change, while the contents have not. Heineken beer has not touched its recipe since 1873. The key to its distinctive taste continues to be yeast-A.

Heineken is noteworthy among European beers for finding success in America. It was the first beer delivered after the Prohibition. On 11 April 1933, a shipment arrived from the Old World and Americans got to taste their first sip in over a decade! Heineken was destined to become the number one imported beer in US.

This was upset when Corona penetrated the states with a distinctive long neck bottle and presentation – a slice of lime was always placed on top. After 1997, Corona easily overtook Heineken in shipments.

Heineken had to come up with some ideas, but the recipe couldn’t be touched. What could be done?

heineken bottle

A slimmer green Heineken bottle with a longer neck arrived in New York City bars and restaurants, ahead of a national rollout by the Amsterdam brewer. The new Heineken bottle is 1.25 inches taller than the old bottle, with a longer, narrower neck the brewer believes makes it look more modern so it can drive in new young drinkers.

A thumb groove is designed to improve the grip and encourages drinkers to hold the bottle lower down, keeping the beer colder. A strong shoulder aims to convey an air of “masculinity and pride,” according to Heineken.

What remains a permanent feature is the green colour. Heineken stuck with this distinctive shade, over alternatives of clear or brown glass – why? The brewer knew that the appearance of the bottle created a lasting impression. Clear bottles look great, showing off the colour and texture of the beer, but green has historically been associated with high quality beer, turning the colour into a status symbol.

When Heineken reached American shores in 1933, it came in squat green bottles. At this time, design was determined by practical considerations. After World War II there was a shortage of brown glass, so European brewers exported their beers in green bottles. Because many of those beers were extremely high quality and others were just priced to seem that way, the green bottle became shorthand for great beer. In addiction research revealed that in USA women likely preferred the green colour.

Heineken knows that it has to stay true to its past while moving to stay relevant to today’s consumers. Its packaging has come to stand for quality, refreshment and a distinctive European brew. The brand has been proactive in making alterations in its product design, to ensure this message is understood by each generation of drinker.


Tanja Lanza (MSc Marketing and International Management, 2013) is passionate about all aspects of brand development and marketing campaigns. More of her writing can be found at

Aidan Clfford is HBR’s editor and sometime contributor.

  1. Heineken may never be able to move past the green glass which is unfortunate, since it leads to stinky, decayed beer (no matter what women in the USA may prefer).

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