When the Distilled Spirits Council announced its new president – Chris Swonger, a government affairs veteran with Jim Beam and Allied Domecq – the distillers also decided to “amplify the impact of their collective work” on responsibility issues. They did this by naming Swonger to also head the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR), more closely aligning the distillers’ chief advocacy group with its organization focused on responsible drinking programs/messages. Indeed, Swonger vowed to “vigorously promote moderation and responsibility, while advocating for market access, equal treatment and common-sense policies that enable the continued growth of the distilled spirits industry.” While public health advocates discount, if not sneer, at industry efforts to advance responsible drinking, Forbes ran a highly positive story on the move without questioning the distillers’ motivations. Not only did Forbes list a number of FAAR’s educational and research programs, developed with $300 million distillers committed since 1991, but added that the list “merely scratches the surface of the foundation’s non-judgmental, non-punitive, multi-pronged approach to combatting the potential dangers associated with alcohol.”
On the brewer side, Heineken’s no-alcohol beer brand, Heineken 0.0, will be used front and center to further the company’s message of “Zero alcohol at the wheel” here in the US. That’s the tagline for one of the Heineken 0.0 ads that Heineken USA shared at its distributor meeting in Atlanta recently. HUSA plans to spend significant dollars on the national rollout of Heineken 0.0 next year, reportedly $50 million. No-alcohol beers remain less than 1% of US malt beverage consumption. So, Heineken is betting heavily on the brand’s future here; Heineken 0.0 has done very well in several European markets. Recall, while several of the largest alcohol producers have adopted zero-tolerance messaging for drinking and driving, nearly all have only done so outside of the US. Yet HUSA opted to include such messaging last year for the first time, with the tagline “When You Drive, Never Drink.” Heineken leadership has increasingly voiced a vision for the use of Heineken 0.0 during occasions “where normally you would not drink alcoholic beer,” including “when you have to drive.” And “zero alcohol at the wheel” seems to be the next phase. It will be interesting to watch how the product and/or the message are received in US.