Conversation and collaboration – the key to reducing alcohol-related harm?July 2014
Roland Pirmez, president, HEINEKEN, Asia Pacific explains why the promotion of responsible drinking is key to the beer giant's sustainable future
One of the most common misconceptions I have come across, at the helm of a beer company, is that it is in our interest as brewers to have people drink more no matter what. In reality, that is hardly the case. HEINEKEN is 150 years old. We recognise that if we want to stay on for another 150 years, we must make it a priority to encourage people to enjoy the consumption of our products responsibly.
The vast majority of consumers does so. However, there is a minority which does not. That is why advocating responsible consumption continues to be a clear and on-going priority in our sustainability journey. We believe we can be more effective in influencing positive drinking behaviour through a proactive engagement of our consumers to develop smart drinking habits and influence their peers to do the same. The Asian beer industry, which is poised to overtake Europe and the Americas as the world’s biggest beer consumer, is experiencing a phenomenal growth story that many international brewers are paying attention to. According to figures from Canadean, the Asia Pacific region is expected to be the largest contributor to global beer growth from 2013 to 2018, accounting for 152 million hectolitres or around 72% of global beer growth.
However, there is more to the beer industry than just a standalone enterprise in the alcoholic beverages sector - its development across the Asia Pacific has been linked to positive growth across many other regional industries such as agriculture, brewing, hospitality, entertaining and retailing, just to name a few. The key reasons cited for the ongoing expansion of the Asian beer appetite is the growth of the continent’s young population and the correlation of alcohol consumption with strong economic growth as well as rising urbanisation of rural communities in the region. Against this backdrop, not only positive opportunities are present for the region, but also risks such as drink driving and underage drinking. And the reaction by most stakeholders is often to limit advertising and marketing, restrict product availability and raise taxes.
However, while some of these measures may impact the overall consumption in a market, they do not have a significant impact on the issue they are intended to address: reducing alcohol-related harm. In reality, the most highly-regulated places also happen to have some of the highest incidence of alcohol abuse. What this shows us is that the root of the cause of alcohol misuse goes beyond the availability of the product under abuse. It is linked to one’s intrinsic attitude towards alcohol, rooted in the habitual behaviour of the user.
The entire industry needs to address this challenge by engaging consumers and retailers on the topic. Indeed, it is making concrete steps in leading the way for a change to take place globally that will have a significant impact on our cause to battle alcohol-related harm. But while we are prepared to invest and do more to combat harmful drinking, at the same time we recognize that we cannot do it alone. We need the enforcement muscle of the governments, regulators and health bodies working alongside us to address this. Through our operating companies in Asia Pacific, we have been engaging in partnerships with other industry organisations, NGOs and even provincial governments.
For example in Singapore, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore along with the Association of Bartenders and Sommeliers Singapore and its partner, United States-based Health Communications, Inc., launched a leading skills-based training programme to raise the bar for responsible alcohol service in Singapore and the region. The Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) programme, which the local Health Promotion Board supports, aims to train practitioners from the local hospitality industry on how to prevent intoxication, underage consumption and drunk driving in venues where alcohol is served.
In Indonesia, PT Multi Bintang Indonesia Tbk has partnered with local retailers since 2011 to promote the message of “21+”, screening consumers to ensure that they are of legal drinking age before they are sold alcoholic beverages. From only 5 Circle K convenience stores working with them at first, it grew to over 270 Circle K and 7-Eleven stores in Indonesia participating in this industry self-regulation.
And in Thailand, Thai Asia Pacific Brewery developed a multi-partnership initiative with provincial governors, Land Transport Offices, police forces and other health and safety-related government agencies and Thai celebrities to spread the word on responsible drinking. The successful campaign in Chiang Rai in 2011 led to further partnerships in Chiang Mai the year after. A total of 12 alcohol testing booths and rest stops were set up in eight districts during the Songkran Festival. Statistics showed that only 1.1 percent of recorded accidents during that period was alcohol-related, and the total number of accidents in Chiang Rai, a key danger area, decreased by 85.6 percent compared with the same period in 2012 – the campaign was a success.
Of course, it will take time to influence attitudes and realise results, but there are encouraging signs.
Ultimately, we believe that the cause of promoting responsible alcohol consumption as well as the education of the harmful use of alcohol is one that needs to be shared across all stakeholders at large – be it the consumer, the retailer, the brewer, the health lobbyist or the regulator.
The opportunity is present for a new type of conversation and collaboration on beer and alcohol. Will all stakeholders embrace this? We strongly hope that the answer is yes.
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