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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Christian Davis

In what is probably the biggest shake-up in the UK beer market for years, Heineken is relaunching its global lager beer, dumping the British-brewed 3.4% ABV mainstream version and replacing it with the Dutch original. With sales of wine and ready-to-drink premium spirits growing while beer sales remain flat and in long-term decline, the move by the Dutch brewer could be just what the brewers need to rekindle interest in the beer fixture. For years, Heineken was in the shadow of arch-rival Stella Artois in the UK. Both beers were brewed under licence by Whitbread, with Stella the premium beer and Heineken the 3.5% ABV standard lager. The last straw came when Stella's owner, Interbrew, bought Whitbread's brewing and beer business. Heineken has killed off the British-brewed Cold Filtered beer and raised the price of the new lager to just above the norm for premium lager'. Heineken UK is now importing 5% ABV Amsterdam-brewed beer direct into the UK and Diageo, which owns Guinness, is looking after dispense equipment for the on-trade draught version. Heineken is investing 24 million in year one to reposition what is the number one premium imported lager in virtually every beer-drinking country, other than the UK. Part of the spend is a massive celebrity PR campaign, which kicked off last week, with Zo Ball in a scantily-clad pose on the front page and page three of the Daily Mirror and on a spread in The Sun. The new TV ads break next month.