The development of EverGreen was driven by five strategic priorities that would enable HEINEKEN to deliver long-term value creation. All five would run concurrently and were considered of equal importance. Each was accompanied by far-reaching goals, the achievement of which would future-proof the company, reinforcing its ties to customers and consumers, and reassuring stakeholders that their interests were in safe and responsible hands. Progress in each area would be measured in terms of growth, profitability, capital efficiency, and sustainability and responsibility; moreover, HEINEKEN’s leadership would consider the program successful only if the goals were achieved in all five areas.
These strategic priorities were:
Shape the future of beer and beyond
By focusing on the customer, the company realized that it could shape the future. Post-COVID-19, there began a growing consumer trend towards healthier living. To capitalize on this trend, HEINEKEN invested heavily in innovation within the low- and non-alcohol (LONO) category. The company’s LONO portfolio grew by over 10%, while Heineken 0.0 became the world’s top-selling non-alcoholic beer brand. Amstel Ultra, a low-carb and low-calorie extension aimed at health-conscious consumers, sold well in Mexico and was subsequently rolled out to 11 new markets.
During the second year of the pandemic, the company invested in brand-building, using ad campaigns that focused on togetherness, and, as a result, recording its biggest-ever year for sponsorships. To attract Generation Y customers, HEINEKEN innovated with products that embodied values rising to social prominence, such as authenticity, diversity, and connection.
Armed with a fresh level of brand awareness, HEINEKEN was able to move into new geographical markets. It also expanded its portfolio beyond beer, launching alcoholic flavored seltzer water Pure Piraña in Mexico and New Zealand, before expanding into European markets.
Fund the growth, fuel the profit
HEINEKEN focused on increasing efficiency and productivity through a systematic, company-wide approach. Measures to streamline the organization, rationalize its portfolio, reduce costs, and phase out non-consumer-facing investments resulted in gross cost savings close to €1.3bn ($1.4bn).
Transparency was a priority and a standardized tool was used to pull together the company’s projects and initiatives – over 7,500 across all operating companies. As well as adopting universal standards, sharing knowledge proved fruitful. For instance, in Singapore, the company saved 6% of its entire cost base by implementing 15 initiatives adopted from operating companies in Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand.
Raise the bar on sustainability and responsibility
In 2009, HEINEKEN launched its Brew a Better World program, focused on raising consciousness of environmental issues, social sustainability, and responsible alcohol consumption. These goals were revisited, and new targets set, including decarbonizing production across the value chain by 2040, and cutting out the use of landfills from all production sites by 2025.
The company also set the target of increasing the proportion of women in senior management positions to 30% (from 25%) by 2025 and 40% by 2030. It mandated that 50% of candidates for any specific role must be women, and successful female candidates would be supported by tailored training and development. Additionally, it committed to equal pay for equal work and has acted to level any differences by 2023. To ensure progress is made on social sustainability, the achievement of such goals is reflected in the long-term incentives and rewards structure of the executive board.
To encourage responsible drinking, and to build on the success of HEINEKEN 0.0, the company has also launched over 130 non-alcoholic product-line extensions. As van den Brink explains: “It’s all about consumers, and different beverage types can fulfil different needs.”
Become the best-connected brewer
The company decided it wanted to digitize the business, end to end and become the best connected brewer. This entailed investments on both the front- and back-end of its value chain. On the front-end, important efforts were made to digitalise the route to conusmers and enhance the company’s ability to derive insights and foresights from data.
During the pandemic, consumers became accustomed to shopping online; in response, greater investment was made in the company’s direct-to-customer (D2C) platforms, including Beerwulf. In 2021 Beerwulf performed strongly in Europe, mainly owing to enforced additional time at home during lockdowns and the closure of venues selling alcohol; however, in 2022 sales were over 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels, despite the re-opening of bars and restaurants.
The investment in IT proved timely. On the back-end, HEINEKEN focused on using digital to simplify and automate processes, securing a digital backbone throughout all regions, and create a digitally-enabled organization to enhance productivity. Breweries were retrofitted with digital capabilities, allowing staff to connect to brewery equipment remotely, supporting smarter operations. Multiple sites now run connected apps that gather and cross-reference data across sites, with the potential to suggest performance-enhancing improvements. IT operations were also streamlined and rationalized, including consolidation of ERP systems.