Diageo’s global head of innovation, Michael Ward, has admitted that the company has been working on a non-alcoholic version of Guinness, although he said that developing such a product posed "a lot of challenges to work through".
"You would certainly expect that we would," Ward said, after being put on the spot over the question. "[But] it needs to be a no-compromise proposition." He was at pains to state the difficulty of achieving acceptable quality in no- or low-alcoholic formulations.
Ward was speaking at a media event focusing on Diageo’s ongoing innovation across beer and spirits that took place on Tuesday morning.
The company is determined not to rush new products, he said. For example, it has not expanded the scope of its early 2018 test launch of a 0.5% ABV lager under the Guinness brand, called Pure Brew, in 250 pubs in Ireland.
"There are many ways of reducing alcohol," Luca Lupini, global head of research and development, said. "In Pure Brew, we ferment it right down to 0.5%. There's no post-processing. We don't heat it up, we don't evaporate it, we don't put it through a kit. And what you end up with is a much truer representation; the hop stays fresh."
Pure Brew will not be taken mass market, Ward said, but he added that it is helping Diageo "learn our way in to the non-alcoholic beer market… from a consumer, technical and production standpoint" and there would be "more to come".
The latest statistics on the growth of no- and low-alcohol beer in the UK, in a report released by Marston’s last week, show off-trade volume is up by 60% since 2017 and up by 30% in on-trade since 2016.
Guinness has been standing by while rivals such as Heineken, Budweiser and San Miguel have been promoting mainstream no- and low-alcohol offerings. That’s if you ignore the 2014 launch of a 0% ABV Guinness in Indonesia – which, to be fair, everyone outside Indonesia has.
However, Guinness recently made a major nod to the idea that its consumers might be looking to reduce their alcohol consumption. In February, it launched a TV ad, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, for spoof drink Guiness Clear, which was revealed to be a reponsible-drinking message normalising ordering water for rugby fans.
Last month, the work picked up a gold at the Cannes Lions in the Brand Experience & Activation category.
Today’s event also touched on the inroads low-alcohol drinks are making into Diageo’s spirits offering, such as a no-alcohol Gordon’s gin in Britain and Spain that is being tested elsewhere in Europe.
In addition, the Smirnoff Infusions and Ketel One Botanicals ranges offer consumers a lower-strength way to enjoy vodka, while Diageo retains an interest in Seedlip, the alcohol-free brand in which it invested in 2016.
"We doing a lot of long-term research in this space, but the most valuable lessons we're getting are from having products out in the market and learning live from consumers. This is a great start; there’s much more to come from us," Lupini said.
In relation to Guinness, a Diageo spokesperson said: "We are always considering a wealth of new innovation ideas – but don’t comment on speculation or have any news to report."