Kyle Norrington has been in the job for just over a year yet already his legacy is what occupies much of his focus. “I want to leave our business in a very healthy place and our planet in a better place than we found it,” the President of Labatt Breweries of Canada (Labatt) tells The CEO Magazine.
A chance decision (and change of ticket) made at London’s Heathrow Airport as a new graduate led Kyle to Toronto – and Labatt – rather than back home to Vancouver. After an early stint in sales, he soon found himself using his tertiary marketing qualifications as he progressed from brand manager positions to Vice President of Marketing.
After two years in New York as Vice President of Global Brands – Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois at AB InBev (or ABI, the parent company of Labatt), Kyle returned to Toronto in December 2018 to oversee ABI’s 250 brands in the Canadian market.
“We’re a company that likes to challenge people in different roles, and that’s been the case in my career,” he says. Kyle is the first Canadian to head up Labatt in Canada in over a decade. “It’s both a hugely humbling and exciting experience,” he beams when discussing the significance of the appointment after almost 20 years with the company.
“By leveraging what I’ve learned through my career in Canada, but also internationally, it’s an amazing opportunity for me to leave a legacy with the people who are here.
“A big part of leaving a growth legacy is thinking about areas of opportunity for us for the long-term,” he continues. Certain directions have already been identified. “It’s no surprise that premium brands continue to grow around the world.”
With a portfolio that includes Corona, “the fastest growing premium brand in the country today”, Kyle recognizes that Labatt currently holds a market-leading position. “Nevertheless, we see a huge opportunity to continue to grow in this direction.”
Along with its household name brands, Labatt also owns a handful of microbreweries, including Alexander Keith’s Brewery in Halifax, Archibald in Québec, Mill Street Brewery in Ontario and Stanley Park Brewing in Vancouver.
“If you put those four craft breweries together, coupled with our amazing global brands, we have a unique portfolio that can help us grow today and into the future,” Kyle says. “Another opportunity that we talk a lot about is our adjacencies.”
Already the leading ready-to-drink company in Canada, a market segment he says has witnessed double-digit growth in the past few years, Kyle continues to search out pockets of potential – such as the seltzer boom, which is currently taking North America by storm.
“We’re participating in that big-time in Canada,” he smiles. “We’re bringing new products to the market, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Palm Bay, a new innovation that will be hitting the market very shortly.” Both brands are a reflection of the swing towards low- and zero-sugar beverages.
Kyle is also acutely aware of the role global companies and big brands have to play in protecting the planet. “Maybe it’s now that I’m a father of two young girls or I’m maturing with my age, but I’ve realized that it’s the only way things are really going to change,” he reflects.
Global sustainability goals are being applied on a local level: all of the company’s packaging is on track to be either returnable bottles or produced with recycled products. A move away from the plastic six-pack ring is also well underway. “We are already fairly sustainable in terms of packaging, but we have an inherent desire to do better,” he acknowledges.
“We are already fairly sustainable in terms of packaging, but we have an inherent desire to do better.”
Initiatives extend beyond packaging as well. Through a partnership with Parley for the Oceans, for every six-pack of Corona sold in Canada last summer the company pledged to clean up one square meter of the country’s shoreline.
“While this isn’t your typical innovation, it’s another way of leveraging the love of our brands to build a more sustainable future,” he explains.
For someone so fresh to the role, Kyle is remarkably conscious of what he’ll leave behind. “I hope I’m here for a long time,” he says. “But in this company, we dream big. So I don’t feel like it will be my last stop at ABI.”
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