Open Innovation at Heineken

Case Study: Open Innovation at HeinekenA ‘Nespresso for beer’ was an unexpected innovation that builds on collaboration between Heineken and its partners. The company has been experimenting with different models for facilitating ideation with external partners. This has culminated in the recent launch of its Innovators Brewhouse 2.0, which aims to balance creativity with finding solutions to real world needs.

Heineken recently hosted the Open Innovation Forum at The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, an ideal location given Heineken’s vision to ‘Lead by cool marketing and innovation’. We took the opportunity to hear some fascinating insights into their Open Innovation activities.

Generating ideas

Heineken started a systematic process of looking for external sources of innovation with the launch of its web portal, The Heineken Ideas Brewery, in 2012, and has been on an iterative learning journey since to find the best fit for the business. As Mario Weber, Innovation Project Manager, explained, this first-generation portal was successful in generating inbound ideas around specific challenges, but had a cumbersome review process and without a direct connection with the internal clients there was little commitment to adopt winning ideas. The portal was relaunched in 2014 as The Innovators Brewhouse, with an ‘all ideas welcome’ format and a lighter-touch process for reviewing ideas, however the resulting volume of ideas were poorly targeted to real needs and costly to evaluate and follow up.

Directing the energy

With five years of experience it was clear that Heineken had a willing pool of innovation to tap into, but needed a more efficient process to direct this energy to real business needs and connect with internal clients. This year saw the relaunch of Innovators Brewhouse 2.0 with targeted, client-owned challenges being communicated to a broad innovation ecosystem including consumers, suppliers, academia and start-ups, all connected by an efficient platform to minimize the effort and enable communication and adoption. Within a few weeks of launch, the platform already had five live challenges attracting well over 500 registrations and more than 150 ideas. You can see for yourself at

Case Study: Open Innovation at HeinekenDisruptive technologies

As Arjen Reijnierse, Commercial Director of Global Innovations, explained, working with external partners becomes ever more important as Heineken broadens its innovation efforts beyond the product into new business models, channels and e-commerce, tapping into new skills and experience. One exciting recent example of this is the Heineken Blade, which Arjen likened to ‘a Nespresso for beer’. Everybody knows Nespresso, which was 20 years in development but is now cited as a textbook case in innovation by the likes Harvard Business Review.

The Blade is a countertop draught beer dispenser, which enables Heineken to target huge new growth markets for draught in the casual dining sector (20,000 licensed food outlets in the UK alone) which can currently only offer bottled beer. The unit is completely ‘plug and play’, with no maintenance or installation costs, and can easily be set up to ‘pour the perfect pint served at 2°C’. ‘Blade means that the ritual of pouring and presenting a consumer with a great tasting, freshly poured draught beer is now possible everywhere. From boutique hotels, high street restaurants, theatre bars, cafés and coffee shops, Blade really is set to change the rules for draught beer – turning any countertop into a bar.’

Rewards of openness

Highlighting the role of Open Innovation and The Innovators Brewhouse in the development of The Blade, Arjen identified a number of external inputs relating to new routes to market and e-commerce models. He also reflected that there was more to come, as growing awareness and adoption in the business overcomes the inevitable ‘syndrome that you want to invent it yourself’. The focus on innovation is certainly bearing fruit at Heineken, with innovation as a percentage of revenue more than doubling over the last five years – proof that an openness to good ideas from all sources brings dividends.

For more information about Innovation at Heineken, and a chance to contribute, see

For more information about the University of Cambridge IfM Open Innovation Forum see

Post written by Dominic Oughton

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