How Beer Brands Are Driving Growth

How Beer Brands Are Driving Growth

Heineken's Innovation Program Manager conveys how customer creativity became a turnkey solution for their global growth.

Plus Aziz
  • 3 march 2013

As global beer brands compete with one another and increased local players, innovation has come to play a more central role in their financial health. Brewbound cites the BeerTAB report to show that there is an overall decline in beer volume sales as craft beer continues to grow.

As the competition heats up, brand managers continue to look towards introducing tactics like new flavors, activation experiences, and packaging to entice the consumer. But Heineken is an interesting example because they have a refined ability to out-innovate their competitors. Note how the innovation programs mentioned below extend the product into the realms of community and audience loyalty.

Innovation Program Manager Ellen Bark has energized and elevated creativity in the beer market by forging opportunities that balance product and community. Check out their latest platform, the 60+ Challenge Project.

Tell us about your background and role within Heineken .

I joined Heineken in 2009 as Innovation Program Manager within the Global Commerce Innovation. This role stretches from Front End innovation (i.e. concept development) to building innovation capabilities and leading collaborative innovation initiatives. This includes both external initiatives (such as the and our Open Innovation Platform) and internal initiatives (like our on-line Innovators Community and Heineken Innovation Challenges).

Tell us about your brand’s current/previous innovation initiatives. What does ‘Ideas Brewery’ say about your brand’s perspective on innovation? is a Heineken company platform and it is very much a statement of intent for the company’s perspective on innovation. Value enhancing, consumer-focused innovations are an essential ingredient for Heineken’s top-line growth. That’s why we need big new ideas for our brands as well as innovative technical solutions to solve some of the challenges we encounter in bringing our innovations to market.

We believe that great ideas and innovative solutions can come from anywhere. They come from within an organization and from outside. There is a whole world of talent outside Heineken, and today’s social-media culture now gives us a way to access the expertise of thousands of people. is all about spreading our net wider, tapping into new talent, and combining it with our own expertise.

From an internal perspective, some successful examples of our packaging/dispense innovations include BeerTender, the most advanced home dispense innovation, and the next generation PET DraughtKeg, which allows consumers to enjoy the quality of draught Heineken at home or at parties.

The recent Heineken STR bottle, where UV-sensitive ink illuminates under black lights in a club or bar setting, is another example of continuous packaging design innovation.

Recent product innovations include Radler, a refreshing mix of beer and 100% natural juice. Its launch across markets in Central & Eastern Europe was a particular success, contributing to incremental volume gains across the region.

How do you compare getting tactical ideas from consumers vs. getting ideas from your ad/media partners?

For innovation, we don’t get ideas from our advertising and media partners; they provide communication and activation ideas. We work with specialized brand innovation agencies who help facilitate our front end innovation process; this is where we see the real value of innovation. We collaborate in multifunctional teams and do extensive market research and consumer immersions to develop consumer insights. These insights are the basis for idea generation to develop new product, packaging or dispense system concepts. is for us an additional tool to harvest ideas, not only from consumers, but from creatives and topic experts from around the world. So the advantage is that we can tap into a more global and diverse network. Moreover, crowdsourcing establishes interaction between brands and stakeholders as well as achieving powerful social engagement and activation around the Heineken story. Consumers show greater engagement with brands which they can take some ownership of, and ‘co-creation’ through a platform such as gives consumers the chance to help shape Heineken’s future.

Your initiatives engage people all over the world; what are some of the things you’ve done in countries where beer consumption is not the norm or countries where beer consumption is declining?

The beauty of is indeed that we can engage people from all over the world. Our challenges currently encompass 19 countries across all continents and we intend to widen this scope further. Even in countries where beer consumption is not the norm, we’ve seen a high level of consumer enthusiasm to participate. With 27% of all Ideas Brewery registrations coming from India, the country tops the list of participating countries. In terms of idea submission, India comes second, closely after the US.

What we also notice is that in countries where beer consumption is declining – mainly Western Europe – the beer culture is still very strong and participation levels are good. The mission of innovation – and thus – is to keep the category and our brands interesting to consumers wherever they are, and to better respond to their changing needs.

Anything else to add?

Building on the success of the previous challenges, we have launched the 60+ Challenge project.

The population is aging and Heineken greatly values the 60+ age group of consumers. With this ageing global population – and one that is increasingly living longer – Heineken sees potential in creating innovative products better tailored to meet their specific needs.

Through the 60+ Challenge we are looking for consumer observations and insights into this age group, before opening up the challenge to entrants to propose ways in which Heineken can innovate its products to appeal to the 60+ population. These insights can be film, photography or written stories and there is a share of $10,000 (USD) for the best submissions.

Submissions will be judged by a jury that is made up of Hollywood director Donald Petrie, critically acclaimed photographer Naomi Harris and cultural commentator Kees van Duyn. All, through their own work, have displayed a deep understanding and empathy for this particular group.

There’s still time to submit insights and observations as the closing date is 28th February 2013.

Thanks Ellen!



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