Alcohol-free lager helps Heineken toast best sales growth for decade

Strong demand for its non-alcoholic beer helped Heineken notch up the best sales growth for its flagship lager in over a decade as drinkers continue to shift towards healthier options.

The world’s second largest brewer said sales of its leading brand rose 7.7% by volume in 2018, helped by the growing success of Heineken 0.0 as it rolled out the zero-alcohol tipple to 38 markets worldwide.

Shares in the Netherlands-listed group rose 5% as it also reported a forecast-beating 12.5% jump in annual net profits to 2.42 billion euros (£2.1 billion) and gave a bullish outlook for the year ahead.

On an underlying basis, operating profits rose 6.4% to 3.87 billion euros (£3.4 billion).

Heineken said sales by volume of its low and no-alcohol lagers Heineken 0.0 and Radler saw “mid-single digit” growth, with a “high single digit” rise across Europe, including the UK.

The firm is planning to expand Heineken 0.0 to further markets over the year ahead, having more than doubled the brand’s global reach since 2017.

Jean-François van Boxmeer, chairman and chief executive of Heineken, said: “In 2018 we delivered another year of superior top-line growth.

“The Heineken brand grew 7.7%, its best performance in over a decade, with Heineken 0.0 now available in 38 countries.

“Going into 2019, we expect the environment to remain uncertain and volatile.

“Overall, we anticipate our (underlying) operating profit to grow by mid-single digit on an organic basis.”

Heineken – which also makes Tiger, Sol and Strongbow cider – said total revenues rose 5.9% on an organic basis to 26.8 billion euros (£23.5 billion), or 3.7% higher on a reported basis.

Sales of its international brands such as Tiger and Desperados enjoyed double-digit growth, as did cider volumes, with mid-single digit growth in the UK.