The mainstream beer market may be facing difficulties in its traditional markets but some pockets are doing well, with no-alcohol beer the latest niche to show strong growth, as indicated in Heineken’s latest results.

The Dutch brewing giant reported that volume sales of its low and no-alcohol portfolio had grown in the high single digits during the first half of the year to 6.9 million hectolitres and that 48 of its brands now offer a non-alcoholic version.

“We push the category rather than one brand but Heineken is the lead,” CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer explained in an earnings call. “We’ve used our flagship brand as the first entrant into the zero-alcohol segment and then we enrich it with local brands country by country.”

Sales of its Heineken 0.0 product have surged in the past year – “a healthy 80%” – thanks to a combination of organic growth and wider distribution (it’s now available in 51 countries).

It’s already well-established in Europe, he said, and was introduced to the US at the start of the year where it’s doing well so far. “It’s way too early to say where it will land,” van Boxmeer added: “it’s about shelf space and rotation and it’s something you have to constantly monitor and fine tune to make it work.”

An independent view of the US non-alcoholic beer market comes from consultant Bump Williams, who told The Daily Beast “it’s probably a decade away from getting any significant traction”, adding that “the 0.0 is way ahead of its time in the US”.

Its progress in the US – and elsewhere – can only be helped by the new wave of no-alcohol brands tasting significantly better than earlier versions and able to stand comparison with full-strength products.

Jonathan McDade of the Irish Brewers Association cited Diageo’s Pure Brew and Heineken 0.0 as examples of products that “consumers have responded positively to” in Ireland, where sales of low and non-alcoholic beer increased 60% in 2018

It’s a pattern that can be seen across Europe, he continued in remarks reported by Hospitality Ireland, with double digit sales increases registered in the UK (+28%), the Netherlands (+33%) and Poland (+80%)..

“Many independent brewers are focusing on only producing low and non-alcoholic beers,” he said.

“We may see more independent and craft producers introducing these low and non-alcoholic beers here [in Ireland], or indeed focusing their business solely on this offering, as we have seen in the UK.”

Sourced from Heineken, The Daily Beast, Hospitality Ireland; additional content by WARC staff