Featured case:
Forbidden City: Launching a Craft Beer in China

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Le Jie, Vice President of Eurasian Brewing Company’s (EBC) China and East Asia operations.

What?

beerEBC was created through the 2011 merger of two companies – the Indochina Beverage Group and Dragon Spring Brewery.

Why?

Le wanted to introduce a new craft beer (Forbidden City) that he believed could significantly increase EBC’s market share and profitability in China.

However, EBC’s Marketing and Export Sales team, led by Vivian Chin, were rolling out a small-batch craft-type beer (Wild Dog) that they felt had regional and perhaps even worldwide appeal, but Vivian was adamant there wasn’t enough room for both products on the Chinese market.

When?

It was late 2018 when a decision had to be made between Le and Vivian’s products.

Where?

Since the takeover in 2011 there had been a push for pan-Asian and worldwide expansion driven by a global branding strategy.

Key quote

beer in factory “Our markets don’t need another faux craft beer. Wild Dog won’t convey the same authenticity as Forbidden City. And its introduction won’t convince my team that there’s support for the innovation needed to propel the company forward in one of its most critical markets. We believe the market is ready for a strong brand that builds on national pride.” – Le Jie.

What next?

Victor Wang, EBC Managing Director, had to decide which product to back.

Le wanted to pursue the authentic route for the Chinese market, while Chin wanted EBC to act like a global company, and believed her Wild Dog beer would have widespread appeal.

 
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Forbidden City: Launching a Craft Beer in China
Ref 9-920-559

Teaching note
Ref 5-920-560

The authors

author

Christopher A Bartlett and Carole Carlson

Chris discusses generalised experience cases and the need for a clear dilemma.

Generalised experience

Chris said: “Like other Harvard Brief Cases, Forbidden City is a shortened adaptation of a previous best-selling HBS field research case. Although the industry, company and individuals have been disguised, the case retains all the key elements and teaching objectives of the original case.”

The case for beer

The case for beerChris continued: “Cases featuring products with which students have existing knowledge and a positive relationship inevitably capture their interest and lead to more engaged and informed classroom discussions. This case involving the launch of a craft beer in China is no exception.”

Clear dilemma

He added: “Having a clearly defined yet controversial dilemma as the trigger issue in a case is key to driving classroom debate. In Forbidden City, the question of which new product to launch drives discussion into a debate over strategic, organisational and interpersonal issues that are at the core of the learning objectives.”

DebatingDebating

He commented: “Because competing launch decisions can be supported by different arguments from the strategic, organisational and interpersonal perspectives, debate is inevitable. In particular, those who support entrepreneurial flexibility are likely to challenge those arguing for a more corporate-wide strategic approach.”

Wide-reaching

Chris concluded: “Forbidden City is a rich case that can be taught in courses focused on strategy, organisation, general management, marketing and entrepreneurship. It has been used successfully at both the MBA and Exec Ed levels. Its action-oriented decision focus suggests using it in the later stages of a course.”

About the authors

Christopher A Bartlett is Thomas D. Casserly, Jr. Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus at Harvard Business School.
cbartlett@hbs.edu

Carole Carlson is a Senior Lecturer and MBA Program Director in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
ccarlson@brandeis.edu

 

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