Carlsberg finds cheer in alcohol-free sales

Carlsberg has committed to put “a lot of money” into its alcohol-free beers following impressive growth in the category, particularly in Western Europe.

“The alcohol-free brews category offers excellent margin opportunities and is growing across Western Europe and also in Eastern Europe,” the brewer noted in its annual report, published this month. “We believe it will remain an attractive beverage category in the years to come, as it benefits from the growing global health and wellness trend among consumers.”

Sales data published recently by the Brewers of Europe showed that 2017’s increase in beer consumption coincided with a “drop in overall alcohol consumption, binge drinking and adolescent drinking”. There has reportedly been a shift towards beer – typically a low-alcohol beverage – as well as increased availability of even lower-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers.

Carlsberg said its portfolio of alcohol-free brews had “very good momentum” in 2018, with volume growth of 33% in the Western European markets.

The company’s “Together Towards Zero” sustainability programme includes a target for 100% distribution of alcohol-free brews by 2022.

By the end of 2018, 96% of its products also carried responsible drinking messages. Information on ingredients and nutritional values per 100 ml also appeared on 86% of packaging in Western Europe.

“We see a significant increase in alcohol-free across Western Europe, and we're putting a lot of money behind that also going forward,” said the firm’s CFO Heine Dalsgaard.

The EU now produces nearly 900m litres of non-alcoholic beer (about 2% of the total). Production of lower-alcohol beers is also rising, according to Brewers of Europe. A 2018 Reputation Institute survey of more than 10,000 Europeans of legal drinking age in 12 countries found that nearly half were making moderate alcohol consumption part of their lifestyle or culture and now recognised the innovative low- and no-alcohol options offered by brewers.

Carlsberg’s annual report is available here. A transcript of the conference call that followed its financial statements is available here.

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