New Delhi: The world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is set to launch two non-alcoholic beers in India, in line with its global push to offer more low- to non-alcoholic beverages to consumers the world over.
The company will launch the two products—Budweiser 0.0 and Hoegaarden 0.0—in the next three months. For now, the products will be imported into India, said Ben Verhaert, business unit president, South Asia, at AB InBev.
“Beer is a drink of moderation and as a beer company we need to be able to offer choices to consumers," he said.
AB InBev’s plan to add these beers to its India portfolio comes months after the country’s largest beer maker United Breweries Ltd (UBL) launched its first non-alcoholic beverage Kingfisher Radler, which is available in limited markets of Gujarat, apart from Mumbai and Bengaluru. Earlier this year, UBL said it will also add Heineken 0.0—a non-alcoholic beer sold across the world—to its portfolio in India, making it the firm’s second such product in the market.
AB InBev, which sells brands such as Budweiser, Corona, Knockout, and Beck’s Ice, is India’s second largest beer company, after UBL. After a global $100 billion merger between SABMiller and AB InBev in 2016, the company’s local arm in India has a wide portfolio of mass, premium, and imported beers.
AB InBev is chasing growth following the 2017 ban on sale of alcohol along India’s highways and the high taxation, especially on beer, that slowed down the industry.
In 2017-2018, India’s beer market grew at 4.5% in volume terms compared to 4.8% growth it clocked in 2016-17, according to data sourced from Euromonitor. In value terms the market grew at 8.5% in 2017-2018. As a result, companies are doing more to attract consumers.
The new launches, Verhaert said, “are for those who don’t want to drink alcohol but want to socialize and that’s a way for them to be included in the beer category".
However, the market for such drinks is still very small in India, he said. “Globally the non-alcoholic beverages market has met with limited success. People who don’t drink beer usually don’t like the taste of beer. Second, there is poor repeat consumption on any given occasion. Distribution in traditional trade is also a challenge for alcobev companies, as they don’t sell their brands through the normal channels used for selling alcohol," said Samar Singh Sheikhawat, an independent consultant and former marketing head at UBL.
These beverages, he said, “are largely targeted at people who don’t drink or younger drinkers, or even women. However, the occasion of consumption for such drinks is limited".
On new launches in the craft beer market, which has proliferated in India on the back of newer brands such as Bira 91 and White Rhino, Verhaert said, “As a company we are always open to these opportunities. The only point is you need to bet on the right future trends. Today we have a large portfolio that we can leverage. So I would say we are looking at any kind of future trends that could actually pop up." More launches can be expected from the company, he said.
Globally, AB InBev is sprucing up the share of non-alcoholic beverages as a response to shifting drinking habits, especially among millennials. As of 2018, 8% of the company’s global beer volumes came from low- and non-alcoholic beverages. The company has set a target of achieving 20% of its global sales through low- to non-alcoholic drinks by 2025.
Last year, the company acquired beverage maker Hiball, which made energy drinks, organic sparkling juices, and sparkling water, underscoring its efforts to build a wide beverages portfolio.