Interviews

Published on September 14th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Harry Lewis On Testing “Soft Brew” In Rochester And Philly & Future Plans For Hoegaarden

Brewing in Hoegaarden, Belgium reportedly dates back to 1445, as helmed by monks. Hoegaarden, the wheat beer we know it, came about in the 1960s. Today, as part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev family, Hoegaarden regularly continues to expand its American presence. In fact, the brand is currently testing out its new non-alcoholic Soft Brew within the Philadelphia and Rochester markets.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Harry Lewis, Vice President of Premium & Super Premium New Brands for Anheuser-Busch, about Soft Brew and plenty more. Additional info on Hoegaarden — the brand, the brewery and its products — can be found online by visiting www.hoegaarden.com.

What exactly is Soft Brew, and who’s your target audience?

Harry Lewis: Soft Brew is a grown-up soda. It’s a naturally brewed, non-alcoholic wheat-based beverage infused with fruit juice for subtle color and slightly sweet taste. We are targeting young adults who are looking for more natural products, that don’t compromise on great flavor, all without loads of added sugars and calories. Hoegaarden Soft Brew is available in two flavors: Rosée with notes of raspberry (95 calories) and Citrus with notes of lemon (76 calories and less than 10 grams of sugar). Please note that a 12-ounce can of soda has about 125 to 180 calories and 39 grams of sugar!

Can you tell me more about the pilots in Rochester and Philadelphia? Why were those two cities selected?

Harry Lewis: Soft Brew taps into growing consumer trends of health & wellness and premiumization. Rochester over-indexes in non-alcohol products like Kombucha and other better-for-you style beverages, so it was a natural choice for the pilot. Philly is one of our best-performing Hoegaarden markets with growing trends on Premium imported products. We are also testing different route to markets with a wholesaler that has a dedicated “non-alcoholic” sales team (Rochester) and a wholesaler that excels at beer distribution (Philly).

What are you hoping to learn from the pilots? What will success look like?

Harry Lewis: We are testing for potential to enter the non-alcoholic beer segment with a differentiated proposition. This segment accounts for approximately 10% of the market in developed markets like Germany. In the U.S. that same segment is less than 1%, so we see an opportunity to fill this gap. Beyond the product attributes, overall we know people are looking for great-tasting non-alcoholic options.

What’s coming up for Hoegaarden in the U.S. that you’d like to share?

Harry Lewis: We are continuing to develop the brand as the original and best Belgium wheat beer and reinforcing the brand’s role to bring more nature to consumers in urban areas. There is a robust pipeline of products that we will start piloting starting Q1 of 2020 in different cities in the U.S., all tapping into growing consumer trends of health & wellness and premiumization. So more to come there.

You transitioned to Hoegaarden over from working with Stella Artois. How does working for the two brands compare? What’s unique about your new role?

Harry Lewis: My new role is developing new Premium and Super Premium brands so we can grow the Premium beer segment in the U.S. One of the brands is Hoegaarden but we have a lot more in the scope. For example, Cerveza Patagonia was launched last year in the Pacific Northwest and expanded to the Southeast U.S. this year. Having worked on Stella was immensely helpful to understand the codes that are defining premium brands and what consumers care about when engaging with those brands. Each experience has been unique and enriching in its own way.

If I’ve done my research correctly, Hoegaarden is headquartered in Belgium. Are you out there much?

Harry Lewis: You are correct. The brewery is located in Stoopkensstraat, Hoegaarden, Belgium. And no, I’m not spending nearly as much time as I wish I could at that beautiful town where it seems like time stopped in the 1800s. It’s so nice over there and I recommend a visit should you find yourself in the area.

To you, what makes Hoegaarden unique or interesting as a brand?

Harry Lewis: For me it’s very simple. It’s the Original Belgian Wheat Beer. Imagine a brewing heritage 600 years old, when a band of monks experimented by adding oddball botanicals from halfway around the world to their traditional wheat beer. From the recipe, to the glass and the rich history, I love this brand and we see huge potential to keep developing the wheat segment in the U.S.

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time? Any passions or hobbies?

Harry Lewis: I like spending as much time as I can in nature. I love being outside surrounded by people I care about and love. I love eating, exploring new places with different types of food. Besides that, I like working out and swimming has always been a big passion of mine.

What was the last concert you attended?

Harry Lewis: Last concert was Maluma!

Finally, Harry, any last words for the kids?

Harry Lewis: Feed your body with good quality products and get enough sleep! Sleep as much as you can. Give yourself that gift. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep is fundamental for your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. Your levels of anxiety will go down and you’ll enjoy a more balanced day!


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About the Author

is a New York resident (and Long Island native) with over 15 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. In the years following, he worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer.Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Format Magazine, Businessweek, The Improper, the L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. He has been a member of the SATW and the IFWTWA organizations as a food and travel writer.Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host the recently-launched "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio.


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