Can 0.0 grow the alcohol-free category amid changing consumer preferences?
Credit: Photo courtesy of Heineken

Heineken is the second-largest beer brand in the world, known for a namesake product that hasn’t changed all that much since 1873. But in January of 2019, Heineken is set to bring its new non-alcoholic beer to the US, signaling not only a change in tactics but a recognition of the evolving drinking landscape.

First launched in Spain in May of 2017, Heineken 0.0 (pronounced “zero-zero”) is an attempt to truly perfect 0% ABV brew by changing the production process. Other non-alcoholic beers either prevent yeast from fermenting or remove alcohol at the end of production, ultimately stripping the drink of its inherent beeriness. But Heineken brews and ferments 0.0 twice, carefully removing the alcohol and blended in a way that “achieve[s] a fruity flavour and slightly malty notes,” according to Heineken’s website.

Armed with what they believe is a superior product, Heineken thinks they can expand what’s currently a pretty small market in the US. Part of their will involve encouraging consumers to see 0.0 not as a replacement for real beer (since they still want to sell regular Heineken), but an opportunity to enjoy beer in situations where boozing would be frowned upon. That’s why Heineken plans to run 0.0 ads positioning it as an after-workout drink and as part of an office lunch, according to CNBC.

"It's not about a replacement strategy, it's complementary," Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill told CNBC. "Sometimes I drink Heineken. Sometimes I drink Heineken 0.0. ... So what we see happening is that this is in addition to our own Heineken position. We see this as an 'and' not an 'instead of purchase.'"

If Heineken 0.0 does make a dent in the US (non)drinking market, it will be because of the two things it has less of than traditional beer: alcohol, obviously, and calories. Though there’s conflicting data about consumption, it’s not controversial to say that an increasing number of Americans seem to be comfortable with the idea of teetotaling. If Heineken 0.0 can accurately recreate the taste of beer, socializing for those who’d rather stay sober just got a whole lot easier.

Those who do still drink have also been switching to lower-calorie options like liquors, wines, and spritzes, shunning beers low caloric bang-for-buck. But at 65 calories, Heineken 0.0 is leaner than even Michelob Ultra, long considered the gold-standard in health-conscious beer. That could work to position 0.0 as the drink of choice for those who miss beer but not its impact on the waistline.

Time will tell how the alcohol-free endeavor fares—Heineken hasn’t even been able to forecast its revenue given that non-alcoholic is a totally new US market for them. But at the very least, the fact that a major brewery believes there’s a market for 0.0% ABV beer in the US shows that the times may truly be changing.