News & Views

Interview / The Rise of Conscious Consumption

by Kristina Dimitrova

Don’t let the fast-approaching Cannes Lions (where attendees sip on rosé like water), fool you. For the first time in a decade we are, in fact, drinking less. Last year, research firm Euromonitor reported that 1.7 billion fewer litres of alcoholic beverages were sold in 2015 compared to 2014, a decline of 0.7%.

To address the rise of conscious consumption, Heineken has just entered the non-alcoholic beer market with the launch of its 0.0 product with an ambitious target – to become the global leader in the market.

We speak to Gianluca Di Tondo, senior global brand director at Heineken, to find more about the product, changing consumer habits and the opportunities associated with the alcohol-free category.

What is the overall positioning of Heineken 0.0?

The starting point was the overall proposition of Heineken – Open Your World  which means to keep an open mind. However, when we spoke to our agency partner, Publicis, we realised that this wasn’t totally true. There was a very specific target audience we were never open to because there are people who don’t drink alcohol at all or they are not in the mood for alcohol – and we were never open to them. As a brand – yes, but not as a product.

Now we finally we have something that will be Open to All. And this is the positioning for 0.0 – open to all consumers, everywhere, every time. I love the fact that you can embody this in a very simple sentence.

Also, during the day you have many more non-beer occasions than beer consumption occasions. And that’s where we want to be.

What are some of the challenges with launching an alcohol-free beer?

To be honest, I think that as an industry, we haven’t been treating this category well. Spain aside, I think in the rest of Europe we didn’t really believe that 0.0 would work because it was challenging to have a very good alcohol-free product.

We were also saying that with non-alcoholic beer you are going to have something that tastes like the mother product but has no alcohol, which is not really true.

To avoid those pitfalls and really disrupt the category, the starting point is the product. First, we needed to have a really great product, something that does not compromise. You drink it, you love it, you want to drink it again and you want to recommend it. We could have just removed the alcohol from Heineken to create 0.0 but that wouldn’t have resulted in the best taste. So that’s why Heineken 0.0 is brewed from scratch.

Secondly, we want to be honest and clear with the consumer. Heineken 0.0 will never have the same taste as Heineken. It’s still great on its own and lands into the same taste profile as Heineken but it will never be the same. That was really important for us because we didn’t want people to think ‘I’m drinking Heineken but without alcohol.’ We want them to think ‘I’m drinking 0.0 and I love it’

Finally, we want the consumer to ask for a 0.0 and feel cool drinking it. The whole challenge is being able to change the mindset. I want to move it away from the case of ‘You’re driving and you are forced to drink alcohol-free products’. I want people to choose it because they like it.

There’s a lot of research that shows young people are drinking less and less. What are the attitudes driving that?

It depends on the generation but I think Millennials are much more conscious about what they consume – be it sugar, salt or alcohol. For them, well-being and healthy living is a mindset. People are much more aware of what’s good for them and they make conscious choices.

There is nothing wrong with that. Actually, that’s a really good thing. So having something that helps Heineken be part of this conscious way of life is great for us as a brand.

Do you see any other changes in consumer behaviour that impact people’s drinking habits?

Yes, of course. Technology impacts everything we do. Our social life is completely different. People are now making more friends on Instagram than in bars. And this, of course, has an impact. This is why in a lot of markets on trade consumption goes down and the off trade consumption is going down. Because people get beer and have a night in with their friends.

Another interesting trend that we see is that beer is becoming like wine in the sense that people care about ingredients and craftsmanship. And they are willing to try different things when it comes to taste. So it looks that the beer market is opening up and I believe we can play a big role in that.

What results are you hoping to achieve with 0.0?

We believe that we have the potential to become the global market leader for this sector. The global level is not big right now but we believe it will grow massively in the next few years. We have a great product and a great commitment – we are investing 15% of Heineken’s global ad spend on launching 0.0 in different markets this year.

And, of course, my biggest ambition is to change people’s perception of alcohol-free beer. We know there’s still a barrier. For example, if I tell you ‘Do you want to try something that’s low calorie, alcohol- and sugar-free?’ you will probably say yes. But if I say ‘Do you want to try alcohol-free beer?’ you might say no. However, we tried blind tasting with some friends where we gave them Heineken and 0.0. And they couldn’t believe it. So the main asset for changing consumers’ perception is going to be the product and the communications strategy will aim to push trials. I am absolutely certain once people taste it, they will love it.

Do you have any particular occasion in mind for when 0.0 should be the go-to choice?

Well, I’d like 0.0 to be part of people’s normal consumption habits. My ambition is to try and put it in every fridge. Because we are now competing with soft drinks, when you think about it. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

This is opening a completely new world. With alcohol, there are certain things you can’t do when it comes to marketing. But now, we have this amazing alcohol-free product that still sits under the Heineken brand, so we are excited to explore all opportunities that come with it.