AB Inbev: ‘alcohol-free beer more popular with millennials than older drinkers’

Budweiser brewer AB Inbev has expressed an interest in using alcohol-free beers to win over health-conscious younger drinkers as part of wider efforts to overcome volume declines fuelled by shifts in demographics and consumer preferences.

The brewer already produces Beck’s Blue, which it claims is the UK’s most popular alcohol-free beer, and believes there is an increasing normality of drinking these types of brews as an alternative to consuming alcohol. While there is no imminent announcement regarding the trend, AB Inbev pointed to the success of its Beck’s variant, which saw volume sales climb 16.4 per cent and 11 per cent in the off and on-trade respectively, as a sign of promise.

British adults feel that alcohol-free beer is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago, the brewer claimed. The insight comes from a Comres study, commissioned by AB Inbev, of 2,061 adults earlier this month, which found that the sub-category could be key to propping up sales in a quarter usually hampered by people curbing their drinking habits to offset the excessiveness of the festive period.

The millenial generation - those aged between 18 and 34 - are eight times more likely than over 65s to choose alcohol-free beers instead of alcohol in January, found the report, with only one in 100 of the elder generation prepared to do the same thing. Twice as many younger drinkers as over 55s “expressed likelihood of drinking alcohol free beer” over Christmas and the New Year.

Three in ten (29 per cent) of those who drank alcohol free beer over the festive period chose the beverage to create a good impression - either with in-laws or work colleagues - the report added. For those drinkers who said they were cutting their alcohol intake over the next month, almost one in five (18 per cent) admitted they would consume alcohol-free beer.

Nick Robinson, marketing director at AB InBev UK and Ireland, said the brewer was “excited” by the findings and the potential gains it uncovered in being able to offer a wider breadth of brews. Robinson joined the company in October from Coca-Cola as part of a senior management reshuffle.

AB InBev is reportedly funnelling more marketing resources into targeting younger drinkers as it looks to rev up sales while balancing its responsible drinking efforts with shifting drinking preferences. Millennials are increasingly health conscious and looking to curb alcohol consumption, a behavioural shift that has pushed brewers to turn to innovation to uncover new opportunities.

The shift was reflected in AB Inbev’s earnings during its latest quarter when volumes dipped 9.8 per cent.

The downturn has seen the brewer try to tap into the craft beer explosion in the US with its own alternatives, while in the UK it is banking on the sweeter taste profile of its rum-flavoured Cubanisto to pull younger drinkers to the beer category.

Digital is also set to play a key role in the brewer’s attempts to push its beers to younger drinkers. Stella Artois became the first beer brand to use Instagram’s advertising tools in the run up to Christmas and the brewer also trialled a mobile click and collect service in bars in London earlier this year.

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Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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