The annual CES tradeshow traditionally is the first event of THE new year to kick-off the next-generation of innovations. Although robots like Lovot, the companion robot, grabbed mainstream media headlines, innovation for the consumer market is not limited to the latest artificial-intelligence-powered creation. Instead, the innovations with perhaps the broadest impact can be found at local food and beverage retailers.

In the beverage industry, the beer market is among the categories that has seen consistent innovations released from small and large players. For a company like HEINEKEN USA, White Plains, N.Y., the global brewer benefits from the support of a large-scale parent company yet still operates with the flexibility of an emerging brand.

“Although Heineken is a global company, we think and act like a small, nimble player and jump on market opportunities quickly,” says Jenna Behrer, vice president of innovation and activation for HEINEKEN USA. “We keep a close eye on emerging consumer trends and believe firmly that a market can be developed if you have the right product at the right time that meets a consumer need. We ask ourselves, what are the incremental drinking occasions when consumers are currently not drinking beer and what can we innovate to change that? These are opportunity spaces.”

These opportunity spaces are designed to weave the consumer trend with the consumer need state, Behrer explains.

“We identify ‘white space’ in the market and innovate in a way that fills that space with products for which we know there is — or will be — a consumer demand,” she adds.

That white space identification led HEINEKEN USA to develop a collection of innovations that recently hit the U.S. market: Tecate Titanium, Dos Equis Mexican Pale Ale (MPA), Heineken 0.0 and Strongbow 100 Cal Slim Cans.

The most recent launch is Tecate Titanium, a Mexican import beer that features a 7.5 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content that is packaged in 24-ounce aluminum cans.

“Tecate Titanium is in a sweet spot that really capitalizes on the continuing growth of Mexican imports and the more recent demand for higher ABV products,” Behrer says. “There is no brand that currently occupies this space. We saw this as a gap in the market where most of the high ABV options are non-beers, domestic beers or hoppy crafts.”

Although it features a higher ABV content, Behrer notes the company designed it to still offer top-notch drinkability. “Tecate Titanium delivers a bold yet refreshing taste that packs a punch,” she says. “Its distinct aroma and flavor are the result of an obsessive and tireless brewing process that results in the high alcohol content but great drinkability.”

Yet, Behrer says that the beer market is seeing polarization when it comes to drinking occasions. “At one extreme consumers are seeking higher ABV products; at the other, they are abstaining from alcohol altogether,” she says. “There’s plenty of room at both ends to satisfy consumer needs with unique, premium, great-tasting products.”

At the other end of the spectrum, HEINEKEN USA developed Heineken 0.0, an alcohol-free malt beverage.

“The non-alcohol beer segment is growing globally, particularly in traditional beer markets like Spain and the U.K.,” Behrer says. “This trend is arriving in the U.S, and we’re getting out early with a premium product to satisfy consumers who appreciate beer taste and want a beer for occasions when they don’t necessarily want to consume alcohol. Heineken 0.0 is not a substitute for beer with alcohol; it’s an incremental opportunity.

“There are plenty of non-alcohol beers currently in the market, although few are premium and most fall short of authentic beer taste,” she continues. “Heineken’s master brewers created the new zero-alcohol beer using a breakthrough process that removes the alcohol but keeps the taste, resulting in a beer brewed for beer lovers, by beer lovers. Heineken 0.0 disrupts the category and offers a new take on how people drink and enjoy beer, bringing for the first time a great beer taste to the non-alcohol space.”

HEINEKEN USA also is taking its popular brands like Dos Equis and giving it a fiery twist.

“We developed Dos Equis MPA in collaboration with the sports bar distribution channel, as an interesante twist on a traditional and popular beer style,” Behrer explains. “Beer drinkers who are looking for a bit of heat absolutely love it. With the use of citrus hops and peppers, MPA takes the Pale Ale brewing process and adds a Mexican twist that delivers its fresh, spicy taste.”

Dos Equis MPA hit off-premise locations in Texas last month and will expand to other Sun Belt states, Behrer adds.

For HEINEKEN USA, packaging innovations are just as vital as new product development. That is why the company released Strongbow 100 Cal Slim Cans at the start of 2019.

“Given [that] 70 percent of millennials are looking to cut back on cals [sic] from beverages, we understand the importance of consumers feeling good about what they drink,” Behrer says. “That’s why Strongbow creates refreshing new products with no artificial colors or flavors that are always gluten free — and now with less guilt in the 100-cal cans.”

The new packaging format is available in Original Dry, Rosé Apple and Dry Pear. BI