Heineken 0.0's march to global success - Analysis

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The general move towards moderation might not be music to the ears of some alcohol producers, but for companies that are out ahead with alcohol-free alternatives, this shift in consumer habits is now also shifting the results needle.

Heineken 0.0 launched in the US in January

Heineken 0.0 launched in the US in January

Almost two years after its launch in the Netherlands, Heineken 0.0 is available in 38 markets, Heineken CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer told analysts following FY2018 results, yesterday. The whole low- and no-alcohol stable at Heineken saw volumes reach 13.1m hectolitres, compared to 12.5m in 2017. This was driven, van Boxmeer said, by the performance of radlers and Heineken 0.0.

In the notes that followed results, several analysts made mention of Heineken's low- and no-alcohol innovations, with Societe Generale's Toby McCullagh heralding the segment as a "long-term opportunity".

So far, the alcohol-free beer's (relatively speaking) mature stomping ground is Europe, leading McCullagh to draw comparisons to other strong performers in the region and category.

He noted that positivity for Heineken "reinforces just how impressive Carlsberg's growth in craft and no-alcohol brews were".

In full-year 2018 results, posted earlier this month, Carlsberg reported a 33% volumes jump for alcohol-free brews in Western Europe.

Meanwhile, Jefferies analyst Edward Mundy called out no- and low-alcohol beers at Heineken, saying they were helping to make Europe "no longer a drag" for the brewer.

Outside of Europe, the US became one of the latest of the 38 markets to receive Heineken 0.0, when the SKU rolled out there in January. The story in the US market, though, might not follow the same narrative as the one on this side of the Atlantic.

On the results conference call, van Boxmeer refused to reveal launch objectives, warning that the US market is very different to Europe.

"We are a very, very small player in absolute terms," he said of the US.

However, he also believes there are drinking occasions where 0.0 provides a solution - when consumers do not want to drink but enjoy beer, or for consumers that never drink, for example. He also mentioned sports clubs as an opportunity for 0.0.

"We've got to give it a try," the CEO said. "So far, it's never [been] done in a serious way in America but we think there is a latent demand for it. We're going to try it out with open eyes... working with distributors who are in for the ride and believe in the opportunity."

Elsewhere, Heineken continues to add more zero alcohol iterations to its brands, with Birra Moretti Zero the latest in the UK.

Sectors: Beer & cider, Company results

Companies: Heineken

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