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Magdalena Brzezińska (Żywiec Group): Sustainable development strategy is one of the key elements of the overall business strategy for us

Grupa Żywiec cares about sustainable development on a rare scale. What are the main assumptions of the “We Brew a Better World” strategy?

Within the “We Brew a Better World” strategy, we have defined 3 main areas of activity. These are environment, responsible consumption and social responsibility. The strategy contains a number of quantified objectives which we aim to achieve within the next decade, although some areas will remain in the company’s focus even after 2030.

Sustainable development consists of several issues. The first of them is care for the environment in its broadest sense. What targets does Grupa Żywiec set itself in this area? How are they implemented?

Grupa Żywiec currently has targets defined for 2030 in production and 2040 in the value chain. In the area of the environment, we focus on three issues: greenhouse gas emissions, water protection and maximizing circularity. Grupa Żywiec wants to achieve net zero emissions in production by 2030 and be carbon neutral across the value chain by 2040. What is more, we also want to brew our beer from raw materials originating from 100% sustainable cultivation (this refers to malt, barley and hops).

In the area of closed loop economy, we aim for 100% reusable or recyclable packaging in our portfolio. We also want to reduce the amount of plastic used in secondary packaging and replace it with rPET where it cannot be eliminated.

Moreover, we are constantly striving to optimize the use of water in production processes; we want to be a leader in this respect among the breweries in the entire Heineken Group. We will also continue and develop the activities of the We Care about Water coalition, which we co-found with Żywiec Zdrój and other entities. The coalition’s goal is to work together for water retention in the Żywiec region.

Social issues are equally important. What initiatives are you taking in this area?

Among social issues we will focus our efforts on promoting responsible beer consumption. We want to develop our offer of alcohol-free beers, which are already available under every major brand in our portfolio. We will also work on further education of consumers in the context of responsible consumption through our own actions as well as within the Browary Polskie association. We will also invariably allocate 10% of the advertising budget of the Heineken brand to promoting the responsible consumption message.

We will also focus our efforts on developing a culture of diversity and belonging within our company, including eliminating the gender pay gap by 2023. Employee safety is a paramount value for us, and we are implementing measures to achieve a total absence of accidents at work. We will also continue to engage with our local communities.

What benefits do you see from such a strategy?

It is in everyone’s and every company’s interest to combat climate change and work together towards zero CO2 emissions. For us, the sustainability strategy has been one of the key elements of our overall business strategy for many years, because we understand the risks associated with climate change very well. In this way, we care for the future of the next generations and the possibility of continuing the brewing tradition in the decades to come. We are also aware that in the future access to business financing and new investments will almost exclusively be for companies that manage climate risk well and adapt their operations to climate change.

Are customers more willing to use products that promote ecology (e.g. bottles with an inverted label characteristic for the “Great Lifestyle Return” campaign)?

Customers are certainly becoming more aware of climate change and its challenges for future generations. There are many studies showing that this awareness is growing year on year, but it is not yet reflected in purchasing decisions in a 1:1 ratio. The coronavirus pandemic has also changed a lot in this regard, which has, for example, caused an increase in the popularity of disposable packaging (this is dictated by consumer convenience). We, however, do not cease in our efforts to promote the returnable bottle, which is next to the keg the most ecological type of packaging available to beer consumers today.

Can popularization and intensified promotion of 0% beers be treated as one of the elements of sustainable development?

Absolutely. Popularization of alcohol-free beers is a very important element of promoting responsible consumption and a balanced lifestyle, because it offers consumers a choice. Today, when a consumer enters a store, he has almost the same wide range of non-alcoholic products to choose from as those with alcohol. This means he doesn’t have to compromise on taste preference, beer style or brand. Alcohol-free beer is also a great choice for people who, for various reasons, cannot consume alcohol but want to enjoy the taste of it (such as drivers).

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Group’s operations and sustainability strategy?

The coronavirus has left its mark on probably everyone, Grupa Żywiec is no exception here. As a result of the pandemic, Poles’ shopping habits changed, which to a large extent translated into the way our business operates. The closed economy and sanitary restrictions also forced us to plan in a shorter time perspective due to such an unpredictable market. The safety of our staff has been and continues to be a priority for us, so we have adapted our working methods to the new conditions and do a lot to ensure the physical and mental health of our employees. The pandemic itself did not have a negative impact on our activities in the area of sustainable development, what is more, we observe acceleration of the environmental agenda and greater mobilization of consumers and companies.

As a leader in the alcohol industry, Grupa Żywiec has a major impact on society. This entails a certain responsibility. Do you treat it as a limitation or, on the contrary, as an opportunity?

We are fully aware of this responsibility and we try to respond to these challenges within our strategy. This is why we boldly undertake projects such as Keep the Vertical, which aim at educating young adults about responsible alcohol consumption. We also submit ourselves to self-regulation within the Association of Polish Brewers and we support the campaign In Family Strength. Every year we allocate 10% of the Heineken brand advertising budget to responsible consumption campaigns.

What challenges (in the context of sustainable development) does the industry face in the coming years?

The main challenge will be decarbonisation, which probably everyone is facing today. After all, CO2 emissions are the main cause of climate change, as IPCC reports clearly indicate. There are still many barriers, such as the lack of technology or the costliness of e.g. the energy transition to renewable sources, which prevent business from effectively reducing emissions to zero. To do so will also require cross-sector collaboration – we need to work together towards zero, together with suppliers, customers and consumers.

Grupa Żywiec is a series of brilliant marketing campaigns, not only the eco ones. What will it surprise us with in the near future?

A new product is slowly appearing on the market in Grupa Żywiec portfolio – Heineken Silver. This is a new proposal addressed to fans of session lager with a delicate flavour. Heineken Silver is a nod to young consumers who are looking for lighter and less bitter beers. It is created in a completely unique way – by lagering for at least 3 days at -1 degree Celsius, acquiring its unique properties. Mild taste, total refreshment and alcohol content of 4% is an ideal combination to enjoy every moment and reach new groups of customers who have so far reached for other beverages. The new variant of Heineken is brewed using sustainably grown barley, which protects the planet’s resources, farming communities and biodiversity, according to the Global Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI).

This, of course, is not the end of our suggestions for the upcoming beer season, but consumers will find out more about it soon.

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