AB InBev is the world’s leading brewer and the company behind globally-renowned beers such as Corona, Stella Artois, Budweiser and Hoegaarden. For a business with a large global footprint but rooted in local communities, the brewer has set out a series of far-reaching sustainability goals to protect and preserve the natural ingredients needed to brew beer. Here, Bio Market Insight’s Liz Gyekye (LG) sits down with Vana Knoepfel (VK), European marketing director of Corona, to find out about the brand’s sustainability strategy.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What initiatives are AB InBev taking to reduce its impact on the environment?
Vana Knoepfel (VK): At AB InBev we have four core sustainability goals to reach by 2025. These goals are focused on the areas where we can make the biggest impact – agriculture, water stewardship, packaging and climate action. We plan to see all of our beer sold in returnable or majority content recycled packaging and all of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. In relation to our circular economy target, we also aim to ensure that our crates, which hold our bottles, are made from recycled plastic. Sustainability is something that is embedded in everything we do.
LG: The issue of marine plastic pollution has become a hot one recently. What is Corona doing to tackle this problem?
VK: Corona (@Corona) is the face and the voice of everything related to circular packaging. We always say that Corona is a brand that was born at the beach and surrounded by the ocean. Each year, there are 85 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the ocean. We want to take a stand, and we want to make a change and protect our oceans, but we cannot do it alone. That is why we have partnered up with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans. We’re on a journey together to clean up 100 islands by 2020. We’re taking our consumers on the journey too; particularly in the UK, where we built a giant wave made out of plastic waste in east London to highlight the scale of the issue. It was an inspiring campaign – driving 1.6 billion impressions on social media alone.
This year, we want to go further. We know our consumers feel passionate about and connected to what we are doing and they want to get involved. However, they often feel helplessness – they just don’t know what to do to improve the situation. This year, we are not just driving awareness about the plastic issue, but asking consumers to participate. We will clean more than two million meters squared of beach in Europe alone and drive awareness through campaigns that surprise and delight. But we want to go even further. We have begun work on what a fully plastic-free supply chain in the next couple years could look like. It’s a huge ambition, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. We are determined to drive the innovation and make the investment to get there.
Corona has also started piloting plastic-free six-pack rings made from plant-based biodegradable fibres. They will be introduced at Corona’s home market of Tulum, Mexico, followed by other markets around the world.
LG: What other initiatives have you made to cut down on plastics?
VK: In relation to our plastic-free supply-chain strategy, we have done amazing work already. We are 70% of the way there and there is 30% still to work on. One key challenge here is that of the so-called crown liner which, today at least, is made from PVC plastic. This plastic liner helps us to deliver the great taste, shelf life and freshness of the product because it absorbs the excess oxygen left over from the body of the bottle.
At the moment, there is no solution to this on the market – we imagine a world where there could be. That’s why we are engaging some of the world’s brightest minds – technologists, innovators and start-ups – through our 100+ Accelerator programme. The incubator aims to identify game-changing sustainable solutions and use pilot sprints and the scale of our global organisation to accelerate these solutions in market. We are also working on reducing our use of plastic shrink film and plastic shrink wrap in our breweries, but we’re still working on finding a solution here too. We are constantly trying to balance classical consumer product and packaging standards that live up to our consumers’ expectations. But as the world evolves, those classical standards might shift too – particularly if consumers’ most trusted and loved brands are on that journey with them!
LG: What is the view of the consumer about your green initiatives?
VK: Consumers don’t tend to make a direct connection between Corona and plastic. This is largely because consumers don’t see any plastic within our product on the shelf, thanks to us making our secondary materials 100% plastic free. But there are differences in how consumers drink Corona beer in different countries in the world. For instance, in the UK, aluminium cans are available. Cans however are not provided with plastic rings, but in paper cartons instead. This is one way in which consumers see that it’s possible to buy everyday brands in packaging that contains zero plastic. Pair this with our inspiring Corona campaigns and activations, and this simpler way of living truly comes to life. We can drive a massive change here for the future. The whole mindset starts from inside our company and radiates outwards.
LG: Are you looking at innovative solutions?
VP: Yes, we are – from edible or hyper-compostable packaging to refillables, we are spending a significant amount of time and resource internally to drive longer-term solutions that help consumers to live more moderate lives. We are convinced the 100+ Accelerator will be key critical in designing solutions that don’t yet even exist. Our first 100+ Accelerator cohort went live in 2018, with start-ups working on solutions in renewable energy through cloud-based software for small-holder farming empowerment. In our next cohort, we’ll target start-ups with technologies that specifically address the plastic problem.
LG: What challenges do you face?
VP: The plastic pollution issue is hugely topical, with the narrative that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish if we don’t change our behaviour by 2050. Everyone has heard that there’s a problem, but they don’t always see it. In Spain, for example, people can go to the beach and enjoy, without feeling or even seeing the plastic scourge. What people forget, however, is that although the beaches might look clean, all the plastic dumped in the ocean lands up on other beaches around the world. Those beaches don’t always have the resources to clean up their beaches, resulting in damage to the environment and biodiversity that lives on or close to the shore. Our clean-up programmes in Spain aim to educate people on knock-on effects such as this and help them to curb the problem of plastic waste at its source before it becomes a problem.