|Red Stripe’s Singularity as a Brand
By: Corinne MacInnes
Jamaica’s poster-child beer, Red Stripe, is simply a pale lager with low alcohol content, but somehow this beer is different from its domestic cousins. Coors Lite, Bud Lite, Miller Hi-Life, Natty Ice — all crowd the ranks of big-name, casual drinkables, but Red Stripe continues to stand alone. Understanding what has made, and continues to make, Red Stripe such a successful brand requires a look into the past.
Despite its boasts of being a “Jamaican Lager,” the original Red Stripe recipe was brewed in Gelena, IL a long, long time before it was sold to two English investors, Desnoes and Geddes, and brought to Jamaica in 1938. Only from 1985–1993 were Red Stripe imports to the U.S. brewed and owned exclusively by Jamaica’s Desnoes and Geddes Ltd. After ’93, the majority of Red Stripe stakes were bought by Diageo, a British corporation that now owns brands like Smirnoff, Guinness, Baileys, Hennessy, Cîroc, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan, and Seagram’s.
In 2015, Heineken International took over Diageo’s stake, now owning Red Stripe along with European brands like Cruzcampo and Buckler. Today, bottles of “Jamaican” Red Stripe sold in America are brewed in the U.S.
All this ownership history of Red Stripe, rich as it may be, lies beneath the brand surface. Red Stripe consumers only know what is presented to them in the label and the product itself. Even if we, as consumers, do a little digging, we still find that, despite being passed from corporation to corporation, the original Jamaican company — Desnoes and Geddes Ltd. — still brews Red Stripe for a large portion of the market outside of the U.S. (Jamaica, Brazil, Canada, and Europe).
Sure, the company sold out to multimillionaire corporations, but it was able to maintain the brand authenticity of Red Stripe with consistency in two key aspects. First, the product itself has remained virtually the same since the original recipe was brewed. Red Stripe is no ambrosia, but it’s just good enough to justify the price and a status among today’s craft beers. The companies that have owned Red Stripe over the years knew that changing its recipe would only damage sales.
Secondly, the label has undergone only minuscule changes over the years, and Red Stripe is still bottled in the recognizable stout brown bottles. The occasional attempts to change the bottle and label in the past were not well received, and the packaging always reverted back to the iconic bottle and painted label. A beloved, almost historical brand image created with a unique product and label has kept Red Stripe alive through changes in ownership and rises in competitors.
Corinne MacInnes grew up in Albion, MI. She attended Kalamazoo College and graduated in 2015 with a B.F.A. and concentrations in Spanish, English, and Art History under her belt. Today she works from Chicago doing freelance writing, creative writing, and event planning
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