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Geert Swaanenburg

Fizzing with Innovation

D&T
October 3, 2019

As health consciousness is gaining ground worldwide, brewers are hopping on the innovation wagon to keep up with shifting consumer demands. HEINEKEN Hungary is developing novel brewing techniques at its Sopron Brewery as focus shifts toward premium products and alcohol-free beers.

Beer and Sopron share a history spanning several centuries. The western Hungarian city, which has been the center of one of Hungary's historical wine growing regions since the Middle Ages, was home to the First Sopron Brewery and Malt Factory, established in 1895 by local beer merchants and the owners of the Brünn Brewery. However, historical records show that the Town Council regulated local beer sales in the pubs as early as 1523. Under a decree issued by city officials, Franciscan friars rang the bells at 8 p.m. to let townspeople know: no more beer sold after the sad sound of the "beer bell". Although the beer bell has long turned into a historical curiosity, an increasing number of Hungarians are shying away from or cutting back on alcohol consumption as people seek healthier lifestyles and all things “wellness” remain firmly in fashion. The consumption of alcohol-free beers surged by 25 percent in 2018 from a year earlier in Hungary, amounting to nearly 23 million pints, according to data from the of Hungarian Brewers Association.

Zero Zone

“Moderation and health are getting more and more important for our consumers. We also want to encourage people to drink moderately and to enjoy our products responsibly,” says Geert Swaanenburg, General Manager at HEINEKEN Hungary, which owns the Sopron brewery. “Growth in this segment is really strong, making Hungary one of the countries in Europe with the highest share of 0.0 beverage sales. We are very happy with the trend and we continue to innovate in this segment to give our consumers great tasting non-alcoholic beers and radlers, like Heineken 0.0 and the Soproni Radler range,” Swaanenburg notes. The world’s second-largest brewer has about 159 products in its 0.0 beer range and expects the global non-alcoholic category to grow by 2.3 per cent between 2017 and 2020. To highlight its offering of non-alcoholic beverages, HEINEKEN Hungary introduced a shop floor activation program called 0.0% Zone. The company presents all its non-alcoholic products in coolers, displays and shelves in close proximity to ensure that consumers have a convenient access to all its non-alcoholic beers in one place.

Going premium

Even though, overall beer consumption is not rising spectacularly, the premium category booked a surge of 24% in sales last year. “Our consumers are more appreciative of premium beers. We see a growing demand for more premium lager and a preference for premium craft beers. HEINEKEN Hungary’s premium range of international craft beers, like Mort Subite and Edelweiss, as well as high-quality local craft beers like IPA and APA from Soproni were the first steps to introduce exciting products to the Hungarian market,” Swaanenburg says. The new products require different brewing innovations and techniques and HEINEKEN Hungary is implementing these developments in addition to expanding brewing capabilities at its Sopron Brewery, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. “With the Óvatos Duhaj family, which is a true Hungarian success, we’ve shown that a strong local quality beer brand can rally a large consumer base behind exciting new segments such as Fruity beers and top fermented ones. Our latest draught beer innovation is called BLADE, which is a compact, high-quality draught machine allowing even the smallest beer selling outlets to offer consumers high-quality draught beer. It doesn’t only serve top quality beers, it also looks amazing: a true revolution in draught,” the General Manager says.

Every drop counts

When it comes to sustainability and environment protection, HEINEKEN shows impressive results. The company has slashed its carbon-dioxide emission per liter of beer by 50% over the last 10 years and continues to search for ways to minimize its footprint further. It has launched a competition for students, called ‘Drop the C’ which aims to collect new ideas how to further reduce CO2. The slogan ‘Every drop counts’ is taken literally by HEINEKEN as the company continuously works to reduce the amount of water needed during production. Today it uses 3.3 liters of water to brew 1 liter of beer in Sopron, which is already 23% less than 10 years ago but the goal is to cut the amount further. The Dutch venture also works with the Hungarian Interchurch Aid to give less privileged families and communities the opportunity to develop their independent businesses through growing hops. “Currently, there is no hop agriculture in Hungary, which means we need to transport it all from abroad. Being able to source it locally and use it for our domestic beer brands is not only helping local communities, it will also further reduce our CO2 footprint. After one year of preparation, in November 2018, we planted hop on one hectare at Kastélyosdombó, a less privileged area of the country. Our goal is to buy the hop at market price and give these families a sustainable income. We are at the beginning of this journey and it will take several years to build a sizable hop supply, but every journey starts with the first step,” Swaanenburg says.

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