How Heineken 0.0 arrived on the cobbles

A 'wouldn't it be great...' conversation in the pub led to a partnership between Heineken and ITV, and a new non-alcoholic beer on tap in the Rovers Return and Woolpack


When Tyrone Dobbs walked into the Rovers Return and ordered a pint of zero, it marked a major step into normalising low and non-alcoholic beers but for Joanna Dring, head of media at Heineken, it also brought to fruition an idea sparked by a chat with a colleague over, inevitably, a pint in the pub.

The fact that Dobbs did not mention any brand was irrelevant because a Heineken 0.0 pump could be seen on screen, sitting alongside beers from the fictional Newton & Ridley brewery, while in Emmerdale’s Woolpack, it was being served alongside Ephraim Monk.

In a media world in which it is impossible to pay for product placement for products such as alcohol and tobacco, it represented a tremendous coup for Heineken, who had sought the approval of both Ofcom and ITV.

Heineken 0.0’s journey to the cobbles of Coronation Street began when, in a major technological advancement, Heineken announced plans to roll out its alcohol free beer on draft in pubs across the UK in November 2021.

The brewer had perfected a way for licensees to serve alcohol free beer from their existing draft dispense systems without the risk that its yeast could ferment – making Heineken 0.0 the first alcohol free beer to sit alongside regular beer taps in any pub.

Heineken UK’s corporate affairs director James Crampton poetically referred to the first draft pint of Heineken 0.0 served as ‘one small pull for a bartender, but a giant leap for pub-kind’.

It also was a major step towards normalising non-alcoholic beer in a culture where 90 per cent of beers and ciders in pubs are on draft, and where, not too long ago, the only available teetotal options were water or soft drinks.

But as Dring admits there was still some embarrassment about ordering alcohol free beer in a pub, while many people still remembered how bad the early non-alcoholic drinks had been.

She explains: ‘We knew that there was still a stigma attached to alcohol free beer. If you were a woman ordering a non-alcoholic drink a pub, you might be asked if you were pregnant, while a guy out with his mates might be told that it wasn’t a proper drink. Or you might feel self-conscious that you’re not in a round with everyone else, who might be drinking a pint while you’ve got a bottle.’

One small pull for a bartender, but a giant leap for pub-kind

But the world is also changing. People want to live healthier lifestyles, while alcohol consumption among Generation Z and Millennials is falling. Some estimates suggest one in four 16-to-24-year-old are teetotal, while half of all consumers are open to moderation.

To publicise the roll out of Heineken 0.0 on draft, and to change the conversation around ordering non-alcoholic beer, the brewery launched a campaign focusing on celebrities and influencers, who shared their thoughts on why the move was important.

Mark Wright, the television presenter turned fitness influencer who made his name in The Only Way is Essex, was the first to extol the benefits of Heineken 0.0, saying: ‘You literally can’t taste the difference with your eyes closed.’ He also shared a pint with former ladette Denise van Outen.

‘Men love [Mark Wright]. Women love him. But he’s a fitness fanatic. He loves going to the pub. He loves a pint, but at times he wants to wake up as fresh as a daisy,’ explains Dring.

‘We also work with the singer Lucy Spraggan. She’s great. She loves going to the pub, but she doesn’t drink alcohol. She has spoken about her frustration at going to a pub that doesn’t serve alcohol free: you have to make do with something that you don’t really want.’

Beer sommelier Marverine Cole, who is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and occasional presenter on Good Morning Britain, also tweeted that the move was ‘game changing’.

Joanne Dring and Joey BrophyBut while the campaign achieved great media coverage and addressed many ‘elephants in the room’, Dring concedes that it did not quite normalise alcohol free beer. ‘What was going to normalise it? What is going to root it in culture and make it a societal norm?’ she asks. Brainstorming with colleague Joey Brophy, she recalls saying: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get Heineken 0.0 on the bar of the Rovers Return? Then, we wondered if we could do it. You can’t pay for product placement for alcohol, but alcohol free?’

Heineken’s long standing product placement agency Scenario checked with Ofcom if it would be possible. They then made contact with ITV. ‘ITV was really keen. I think because they have a duty as well to look after the wellbeing of their viewers, and this is a positive thing to have in their pubs. It gives choice, and one of our mantras is that there should always be a choice,’ explains Dring. ‘One of the producers of Emmerdale said that, because pubs are so central to both soaps and so much action takes place during the day, you can’t have everyone sitting around drinking orange juice.’

The initial 18-month partnership, which Dring describes as a ‘career highlight’, was born. ‘These soaps are institutions. They go into 11 million living rooms every night of the week. I don’t there’s anybody in the UK who would not have heard of Corrie or Emmerdale. Arguably, they’re the most famous pubs in the world.’

As this was about category building, and normalising alcohol free beer, the Heineken logo on the pump is around 80 per cent of its usual size, to make it abundantly clear that it is zero alcohol beer. The partnership was unveiled by This Morning’s resident media Dr Zoe Williams.

76 per cent of Coronation Street viewers and 77 per cent of Emmerdale’s claim it makes them think that drinking alcohol free is becoming more normal

‘It’s really important to have third party endorsers when you do something like this. For a PR launch, you also need to get your basics right, you need your video assets and to get your interviews. But sometimes you just sit back, and think This is fantastic. We have more than 100 pieces of coverage. James [Crampton] was on Sky News talking to Ian King,’ she adds. ‘It was such an easy story. One of the tabloids had a big picture of Dr Zoe standing behind the bar, with the headline Sobers Return. When you’re doing your key message bingo, that’s brilliant.’

While the pump has received much airtime, to date, there have been more than 20 references of a pint of Zero and a handful of Heineken 0.0s requested. And, as the brewer supplies the real thing, the actors are likely drinking Heineken 0.0 rather than coloured water. Independent surveys have also revealed that 76 per cent of Coronation Street viewers and 77 per cent of Emmerdale’s claim it makes them think that drinking alcohol free is becoming more normal.

The partnership, which is due to be renewed for a further 18 months, has also opened doors for other parts of the business, such as public affairs, and prompted conversations and praise from within the drinks industry. ‘The British pub is fundamental to the UK culture. Pubs are changing. They’re not just places where you go and have a pint, they are places to welcome communities. There might be coffee mornings for mums or places for pensioners to meet once a week. They don’t have to be places to go and booze,’ adds Dring. ‘The pub is something we should absolutely treasure. It serves so many purposes.’

One of the tabloids had a big picture of Dr Zoe standing behind the bar, with the headline Sobers Return. When you’re doing your key message bingo, that’s brilliant

Sales of Heineken 0.0 are rising, up about 2.6 per cent year-on-year but, as Dring concedes, it is difficult to discern how much is down to the ITV partnership, as Heineken has held other activities to demonstrate there is now a choice. For example, in January – a time when pubs are often empty as people try for a dry month – it hosted a series of pub events with beer experts and pioneers of alcohol-based comedy Thinking Drinkers, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham. Rechristened The Nommeliers, the world’s first sommeliers of alcohol free, the duo hosted shows in pubs stocked with non-alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine and gin, to prove that a great night can still be had without alcohol.

‘It’s about challenging people to think differently about their local pub,’ says Dring. ‘We will continue to look at category raising initiatives to demonstrate choice and shape and influence the mindset of people.’