Heineken USA CMO says 'occasionality' is the future

Campaign US caught up with Jonnie Cahill about the company's alcohol-free beer and more.

Describe the future of the beer category in one word. "Occasionality," said Heineken USA’s Jonnie Cahill without hesitation.

"How do we recover and reignite the category? By giving people more reasons to love beer," he said. "Occasionality ties in innovation by delivering new ways to enjoy beer - new occasions and joy. It’s all gotten very serious and complex. It should be about dancing and barbecues and relationships."

He added: "We need to make people smile again to bring them back to the category rather than boring them to death."

Cahill doesn’t expect people to only drink beer, but he does want Heineken to be their favorite drink, specifically for the taste.

With the company’s Heineken 0.0 innovation, fans in the U.S. can now consume beer without worrying about the alcohol content. This isn’t the first zero-alcohol beer to launch, but Cahill told Campaign US that the positioning is completely different than its competitors.

"The world of non-alcoholic beers has been about restrictions - driving, on medicine, pregnant - ‘Here’s what you can’t do,’" he said. "Heineken 0.0 is about all the moments you can enjoy beer. We’re not doing this for hardcore non-alcoholic beer drinkers. It’s for beer lovers who drink beer and love beer and want a beer, but not the alcohol."

Experts estimate that the alcohol-free beer category will exceed $25 billion by 2024.

Heineken also chose to launch the product under its flagship brand, rather than creating an entirely new brand name.

"Our family name is on the product and when we do things on the Heineken brand, it means we believe in it and we’re committed to it," said Cahill.

The company is putting some "serious money behind this launch to show people that now is the time to reappraise this category," he said. Heineken 0.0 will include TV commercials, on-the-ground experiences and activations, sponsorships and much more.

Alcohol-free beers have always had a stigma around them as being uncool or lame, but Cahill said there’s readiness in the market as Americans continue to focus on wellness, moderation and balance. Plus, the brand has done exceptionally well in other markets around the world, like Spain.

Heineken 0.0 will be the biggest push for the brewer in the U.S. in 2019, with the expectation of it taking about 12 to 18 months to truly get it established.

Aside from its zero alcohol product, Cahill said the company plans on "unlocking draft opportunities at home" by 2020 since 55 percent of millennials say draft beers are the best beers. And be on the lookout this year for Heineken and Heineken 0.0 to be showing up at many events, such as Coachella, to get in front of more potential and existing fans.

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