Alcohol-free beer needs to account for at least 10% of global beer sales to become an established form of consumption, Heineken has said.

The Dutch brewer, which has enjoyed growing sales of its Heineken 0.0 non-alcoholic beer, estimates alcohol-free products account for 2% of the global beer market.

At this week’s Innovation in Non-Alcoholic Beverages Conference 2023, Heineken global innovation manager Karlijn van Ruiten showed a video during her presentation in which the brewer said drinkers needed to look at alcohol-free beer with “fresh eyes”.

Heineken’s video compared this change in attitude with other industries, such as the rise of purchasing second-hand clothes, plant-based foods and electric cars.

Van Ruiten said Heineken is aiming to put 25% of its “brand” investment into the alcohol-free category, with an aim for Heineken 0.0 to be the world’s largest non-alcoholic beer brand.

She added changes in alcohol consumption are already being seen. “Recent research highlighted that Gen Z alcohol consumption dropped 25% in the last four years,” she said.

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“I looked also at the UK data and it struck me that only 8% of English young and legal drinking age consumers drink at least once per week. This was 50%, ten years ago. We need to face the fact that alcohol consumption is dropping.”

She revealed Heineken is to launch Heineken 0.0 in Japan – labelling the country the second-largest non-alcoholic beer market in the world – next month. The product is already available in 110 markets worldwide.

However, after a global analysis project with GlobalData, Just Drinks’ parent, Heineken reported a “big difference” in the market share of zero-alcohol beer in different regions around the world. In Europe, the products account for 4% of sales but in the Americas and Asia-Pacific that figure was less than 1%.

Van Ruiten said: “The key insights here is that income and beer consumption per capita are the two drivers that we forecast for growth potential.”

When Heineken published its first-half results in July, the company said its non-alcoholic beer and cider volumes grew at a “mid-single-digit” rate year on year.

Heineken 0.0 sales rose at a mid-single-digit rate, excluding Russia, and showed double-digit growth in Brazil and the US.

Nevertheless, the Dutch brewer stated: “Our LONO (low- and non-alcoholic) portfolio volume was stable for the first half, with double-digit growth in 15 markets including Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Panama and Bulgaria, offset by declines in Nigeria, France, Poland and Germany.”

Carlsberg also reported its half-year numbers last month. The Denmark-based brewer said its sales volumes of “alcohol-free brews” fell by 1% on an organic basis year on year.

It pointed to fewer promotions for Tourtel in France, lower volumes in the Middle East and declining volumes of Baltika 0.0 in Ukraine due to the delisting of the brand in 2022.

Excluding Baltika 0.0, the group’s alcohol-free volumes grew by 1%. “In many markets in western Europe and central and eastern Europe, we continued to see solid growth for the category, including good growth for alcohol-free variants of Somersby and Carlsberg,” the company told investors.