| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Heineken NV (HEIN.AS) is launching two new beers -- Amstel Wheat and Tecate Michelada -- in the United States next month, as the Dutch brewer works to improve its business in the key U.S. market.
The new beers arrive as the world's No. 3 beer maker, based in the Netherlands, aims to rely less on Europe, where beer drinking is expected to remain sluggish as the economy continues to struggle.
In recent years, many beer drinkers have switched to wine and spirits, as distilleries unleashed a flood of new products. Beer makers have not been as innovative, and Heineken not as innovative as other brewers, said Lesya Lysyj, Heineken USA's chief marketing officer, in an interview.
"We've been an under-innovator in an under-innovated category," Lysyj said. "Our business was not on a growth trajectory over the last several years."
But Heineken was not alone.
Overall, brewers sold 205.8 million barrels of beer in the United States in 2011, a decline of 1.5 percent, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. That marked the third straight year of declines, though sales in some other European markets, such as Britain, have been even weaker, said Benj Steinman, editor of the trade publication.
Yet Steinman said it looks like 2012 could be flat or slightly up.
Amstel Wheat will be sold in bottles in the Northeast, Chicago and Minneapolis, after a year-long test of the beer on draught. It is the brand's first U.S. line extension in more than a decade.
As for Tecate, a Mexican beer Heineken acquired through its 2010 purchase of Femsa's beer business, the new product will be the first canned, ready-to-drink michelada sold in the United States. A michelada is a beer cocktail popular in Mexico that combines beer with lime, salt, spices and hot sauce.
The new product will be available throughout the western and central regions of the United States.
After years of declining U.S. sales, Heineken is now seeing sales grow, Lysyj said, helped by a greater focus on marketing its flagship brand.
Heineken also has its hands full with a takeover battle in Southeast Asia that for the last six weeks has pitted the Netherlands-based brewer against Thai Beverage (TBEV.SI) for control of Tiger beer maker Asia Pacific Breweries APBB.SI. [ID:nL4E8JT1MA] (Reporting By Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)