Heineken’s chief commercial officer, Jan Derck van Karnebeek, has said that it’s important for beer companies to be ‘the best at what they do’ in a market increasingly characterised by big buyouts and consolidation.
Van Karnebeek pointed to the seismic merger between SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch, saying that Heineken can make up for its smaller size by being “fast in innovation… in translating new insights into products at speed and making sure we roll those [out] across the world at a higher pace than we did before, and at a higher pace than our competitors”.
Van Karnebeek also called Anheuser-Busch, which extended its position as the world’s largest brewer with the move for SABMiller, ‘well financed and successful’.
He made the comments in conversation with CNBC’s Carolin Roth in an interview broadcast today on CNBC International.
Asked about the biggest challenges facing companies in the beer industry, Van Karnebeek said: “The good thing is, in the beer market, there’s more change afoot nowadays than there has been in the last 150 years. And it creates lots of opportunities and a few challenges here and there as well.”
“The big one is the fact that choice is exploding in beer. So there’s a lot more variety in taste and types of beer than there ever was before. That’s one; the second important thing is there’s a general trend toward balanced lifestyles, wellbeing, moderating your alcohol intake, moderating your calorie intake. Also very important is digital. You may not think so but even for beer, digital will change everything, [it’s] a big and important subject matter.”
Heineken is still the world’s second largest beer company now that SABMiller has been absorbed by Anheuser-Busch, with annual sales of more than €20 billion.
It has played its part in the continuing consolidation of the beer market, too, adding South African craft brewery Stellenbrau in March before buying out the remaining stake in California’s Lagunitas Brewing this month.
“We may in some cases choose to acquire and we’re very happy to have Lagunitas as part of our family,” van Karnebeek said.
He also told Roth that consolidation in the beer industry was producing a smaller number of large competitors, with the scale and power to dominate the beer market, like Heineken and Anheuser-Busch.
With the latter continuing to invest heavily in its key markets, Heineken – and much smaller companies – will have to be on top of their game in order to remain competitive.
A number of recent innovations have demonstrated Heineken’s commitment along these lines.
The company has been developing cider in markets like Vietnam and Malaysia, and a few weeks ago unveiled a new zero-alcohol version for the Heineken brand.
Asked why the company had chosen now to launch Heineken 0.0, van Karnebeek explained: “It took us a bit of time to get the beer absolutely right.
“There’s also a thing around timing. You see a worldwide interest in balanced lifestyles in which, from time to time, 5% alcohol beer is nice. From time to time you also want something non-alcoholic.
“Not only that – the nice thing is that Heineken 0.0 is also actually quite low in calories. It’s below orange juice, below milk and it’s actually all 100% natural ingredients. So from a timing point of view this is just right.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2021
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