Heineken's alcohol-free beer has arrived

Amidst rising sobriety trend, brand introduces 0.0. brew backed by $50 million investment

Published On
Jan 10, 2019

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Heineken is out with a new beer campaign that shows people drinking at work and behind the wheel. No, it hasn't gone rogue—the brewer is just advertising a new alcohol-free beer by seizing on the freedom to market it for situations, like driving, that are normally off-limits for alcohol purveyors.

The brand, called Heineken 0.0, first debuted in Spain in 2016 and is hitting U.S. stores and bars now amid signs that more people are swearing off alcohol, or at least drinking less. "Dry January," for which people commit to giving up drinking for a month after the holidays, has risen in popularity, for instance, while "Sober October" is taking hold internationally.

The sobriety trend is not a good thing for beer marketers, as sales are already slumping. The industry was down 1 percent in volume in the U.S. last year, Beer Marketer's Insights recently reported, citing Nielsen data for the year-to-date period through Dec. 29. Some of the nation's biggest beer brands, like Bud Light and Coors Light, were down more than 6 percent, according to Beer Marketer's.

Heineken, whose alcoholic version was down 4 percent in volume last year, wants to seize on the moderation movement with its 0.0 variety.

"We see large numbers of younger consumers not drinking alcohol at all and a continuing trend towards wellness and moderation and balance in your lifestyle," says Jonnie Cahill, CMO at Heineken USA. According to the brewer, almost 30 percent of people between the ages of 21 to 25 have not had a beer in the last month. "These trends, which exist all over the world, actually started in the U.S. And yet the non-alcoholic space has been pretty poorly served," he says.

Non-alcoholic beer accounts for less than 1 percent of the total U.S. beer market, according to Heineken. Historically, most big brewers have played in the non-alcoholic segment with lower-profile brands, such as O'Doul's from Anheuser-Busch InBev. But that dynamic is slowly shifting. For instance, AB InBev in 2016 debuted an alcohol-free version of its Budweiser brand in Canada called Budweiser Prohibition Brew. And the brewer has begun testing alcohol-free Bud in the U.S., rolling it out this week in Michigan and Ohio.

Heineken is going national with its 0.0 variety right from the start. It spent many years developing the buzz-free brew before having enough faith to launch it under its flagship brand.

Rather than simply removing alcohol from regular Heineken, the brewer made 0.0 from scratch as it sought a formula that tastes and smells as close to regular beer as possible. It took about 10 years of trial and error, but the brewer is confident in the final version, which contains just 69 calories per bottle (compared with roughly 110 calories for the average light beer).

Early results are promising: In the U.K., where 0.0 launched in late 2017, the variety now consumes almost 5 percent of total brand Heineken sales, according to Cahill. Today its in more than 30 global markets, including most of Europe.

The brewer will back the U.S. launch with a $50 million investment that includes five video ads that will run on TV and digital. "You can expect to see it from a media perspective, but also from an activation perspective wherever you see [regular] Heineken," Cahill says. "It's not a strange member of the family, it's absolutely got a seat at the table."

The U.S. campaign, called "#NowYouCan," was developed by Heineken agency-of-record Publicis. The spots previously aired in other markets where 0.0 is sold. See more of them below.