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Nikos Zois, Managing Director, HEINEKEN Serbia

Safety & Top Quality Come First

In these challenging times we must think agilely, learn quickly and adapt, with the implementation of all precautionary measure in our breweries in Novi Sad and Zajecar

Taking into consideration that, in the previous period, the brewing sector was first affected by the economic crisis, which manifested itself in 2010 in a drop in production of about 10 per cent compared to 2008, new tremors caused by epidemics and emergency measures have impacted Serbia’s brewing industry significantly, says HEINEKEN Serbia Managing Director Nikos Zois.

Heineken Serbia“Just after the beer market began to recover slightly (production in 2018 was the highest over the previous 10 years, but the value of production was still below the level of 2008), the market received a new shock from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In the first six months of this year, beer sales dropped by about 10 per cent compared to the same period last year. In the first wave of the epidemic, HoReCa facilities didn’t operate at all, while the hops were working part-time, and during the second wave of COVID-19 both channels continued to operate, but under special conditions, which, looking at the overall situation, also impacts the brewing industry directly,” says our interlocutor.

At the global and local levels, HEINEKEN has managed to secure its business and continued its cooperation with all stakeholders, contributing to the continuous and uninterrupted operation of the market, but also to the economy as a whole.

How have the consumption attitudes of consumers changed and how have you responded to such a change?

– The Coronavirus pandemic did influence consumer behaviour, and thus our business operations, but on the other hand it also led to innovative and more agile approaches to the market and to our consumers.

It is necessary to follow the sentiment of the people at any given moment, to recognise the needs of consumers for new brands, products and packaging, while at the same time it is necessary to evolve the platforms on which brands are built, in order to maintain relevance. Adaptability and adjustment to the new reality are key points in doing business in this new reality.

Different age groups behave in different ways, changing consumption patterns on different occasions. However, this has opened up some new opportunities for placing specific packages of our products, which will follow our brand campaigns.

Guided by the principle that people are our most valuable asset, we have taken all steps to keep all our employees healthy and safe, and to maintain the operations of our breweries

Do you think that the market has changed profoundly, or do you expect it to return to normal once the health situation improves?

– Extraordinary circumstances have accelerated the further development of the digital society and opened the door to the introduction of new services and business models on all markets. It is certain that significant further growth of online shopping can be expected in the coming period.

The impact of the crisis is huge and all sales channels face a great challenge in returning to or exceeding the level achieved before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Beer is a product that is best and most often consumed in company and in cafes, bars and restaurants, which were closed due to COVID-19 or had significantly shorter working hours. Restrictions on the work of HoReCa facilities, but also the ban on organising concerts and other events, has affected the behaviour of consumers and changed their habits when going out and socialising. With the consistent message of all our brands that consumers adhere to all protective measures, and in the desire to be a relevant partner to both the state and all our stakeholders during these times, we have adapted to the new reality and tried to ensure our products are available to consumers, but also to respond quickly and always remain a reliable partner of the HORECA sector in order to together create appropriate offers for our consumers.

How has HEINEKEN itself managed to organise production under the new circumstances and ensure safety standards are maintained along the value chain?

– Considering the fact that HEINEKEN Serbia runs its business at two production and logistics locations, in our breweries in Zaječar and Novi Sad, but also in our offices in Belgrade, adapting to the new situation in all locations was aligned with the priorities we set even before the official announcement of a state of emergency, which are, first and foremost, the health and safety of all our employees, then the continuity of business processes and, finally, financial performance. In order to preserve the health of our employees, a set of additional preventative measures was defined and applied in a timely manner, in accordance with the recommendations of experts and based on the experiences of our colleagues from other HEINEKEN breweries around the world.

In accordance with the type of work, most employees from the offices worked from home, while activities in production and logistics processes required daily organisational adjustments to market requirements, with mandatory compliance with strict sanitary and hygiene measures.

Adaptability and adjustment are vital in doing business in this new reality

How can companies themselves contribute to the sustainability of the economy and jobs?

– Through our global “Brewing a better world” strategy, HEINEKEN Serbia is committed to financial and environmental sustainability, as well as the creation of a better world for the community and environment in which we live and work, which we primarily encourage through our personal example and walk the talk approach. Through numerous initiatives and programmes, we would like to contribute to solving environmental and social challenges through our brands, to respond to the needs of our consumers and act together to create a better Serbia.

We cooperate with all our stakeholders in order to improve safety and operational performance throughout the whole production chain, from barley to bar. We encourage and continue to improve the practise of procuring raw materials locally while raising the standards of sustainable production, and almost 90 per cent of the raw materials we use are sourced in Serbia. During these times of crisis, we have committed ourselves to continuing with regular payments to all our suppliers according to the agreed payment terms, but also with even shorter payment terms to small, local suppliers, in order to support them fully in these challenging times.

Also our company donated 12million dinars to the Government of Republic of Serbia in their effort to cover the needs for more respirators to treat those in the biggest need.

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What are your expectations when it comes to the HEINEKEN performance in 2020?

– The safety of all our people and the highest quality of our products are always in the first place, followed by the continuity of our business and achieving results. Through the joint efforts and work of all our employees, with the commitment and daily cooperation of all teams, we have raised awareness of the importance of well-being and health, and strengthened our culture of safety while ensuring the best product quality for our consumers.

In these times that impose many challenges on us, we have managed to achieve all the priorities set and, as one big family, overcome numerous obstacles with the great effort and dedication of all our employees,

The “new normal” brings new challenges, and the key is in finding a cautious balance – returning to regular business operations in a proper manner, ensuring the safety of employees in accordance with prescribed public health measures, and contributing to the continuous and smooth functioning of the market and the economy as a whole.