The move came as the Dutch-owned multinational announced plans to launch a pear version of its UK market- leading Strongbow and confirmed the long-expected reduction in abv of the main Strongbow brand.
Stassen produces a wide range of branded ciders under the company name but is best known in the UK as a contract supplier to other branded companies and retailers.
Its research and development facilities include a pilot plant for new products and a de-alcoholisation facility for beer, cider and wine. Managing director Philippe Stassen said the company would become Heineken’s “cider R&D centre”.
Stassen was the original producer of AB Inbev’s Stella Artois Cidre on its launch last year, and has made cider for the Tesco Finest range.
It was also involved in the development of Heineken’s red berry-flavoured Bulmers No 17 brand in 2011. Stassen was owned by Scottish & Newcastle – then owner of Bulmers and Strongbow – until 2008, but was sold back to the Stassen family to raise cash for a fighting fund against a hostile take- over bid for the brewer from Heineken and Carlsberg, which went through later that year.
Under S&N ownership, Stassen helped develop Strongbow Gold and Jacques fruit cider and had a short-lived attempt to launch the Stassen brand in the UK.
Alexis Nasard, chief commercial officer of Heineken, said: “Stassen’s strong R&D and innovation capabilities will serve us well in a time when there is a lot of new product activity in the category.”
Heineken’s 2012 plans for Strongbow will see its abv cut from 5.3% to 5% in a pledge arising from the alcohol industry’s Responsibility Deal with the government.
There will be a new pack design and an ad campaign on TV throughout the year.
Strongbow Pear will be launched next month and is being billed by the company as “the first pear-flavoured everyday cider”.
It will have an abv of 4.8% and be available in six-packs of 33cl bottles, four-packs of 50cl cans and 44cl cans in fours, 10s, 12s and 15s.
The bottled six-pack and four-pack 50cl cans will be in price-marked packs for convenience retailers.