It's been one year since Ronald den Elzen took the top spot at Heineken USA. While one could say he hit the ground running, it might be more accurate to say the new CEO embarked on his own version of the 1987 hit movie, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
A 20-year veteran of the Dutch beer giant, den Elzen previously held positions in Amsterdam, the U.K. and Portugal. Looking to familiarize himself with his new territory and meet as many distributors in different markets, he immediately embarked on a 60-day cross-country tour — ultimately hitting 28 different states in his first year on the job.
"I thought when I came over here there would be more similarities across the states," den Elzen told CNBC in a recent interview. "When you look through a European lens you see this one huge country, but when you travel across it you see that every state is different in terms of different legislation, different sales tax, different food habits and brands."
Navigating the state-by-state differences, along with the three-tier distribution system required in the United States, adds a layer of complexity.
"You can have a national strategy but not a national activation without fine-tuning for each different state," he said. "So these small exceptions matter, and can have a big impact in the deployment of your plans."
Another difference that stood out to den Elzen was the broad palate of the U.S. consumer, which prefers a range of different brews.
"Here you go from 100 IBU [International Bitterness Units] crafts on left side, to flavored malt beverages and hard sodas on the right with imports and domestics in the middle," said den Elzen. Currently, craft brews and hard sodas are among the most popular domestic brands.
"Normally you would see some people like bitter, some people like sweet but we're seeing people buying on the shelf from left to right and in the middle," he said. "They buy everything. It's very unique."