babe mike's hard seltzer

ZX Ventures: Tracking tastes in innovation

24 August, 2021

A direct-to-consumer site allowed AB InBev’s global investment and innovation group to continue gathering vital consumer feedback during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kendra Kuppin, director of incubation for Europe at the company’s ZX Ventures, is tasked with analysing a brand’s potential at the earliest stage of the development process. She wanted to understand whether Mike’s Hard Seltzer – a popular brand in the US – would resonate with UK drinkers.

Under normal circumstances, her team would head out into stores, engage in sampling drives and gain extensive customer feedback. That proved impossible when lockdown measures were imposed.

“It was hard to do a lot of the testing and learning in the lockdown environment,” says Kuppin. “We had to really manoeuvre our tactics and be quick to change how we gather those learnings. We built a direct-to-consumer website in order to get that feedback.

“A lot of people had to build direct-to-consumer websites to stay alive through sales [during the pandemic]. For us, we needed to build it to stay alive because our goal is testing and learning. It’s not an immediate sales channel. It’s a learning channel. To have that consumer touchpoint was so important.”

The incubation team was able to identify the customers that were making repeat purchases, and those that only bought Mike’s Hard Seltzer once and never returned. They called these consumers and asked a series of questions designed to identify the brand’s strengths and weaknesses.

Kuppin discovered that Brits were happy to consume a few extra calories in exchange for a product with more flavour. The product has zero sugar in the US, where consumers are broadly happy to sacrifice on taste to ensure they enjoy an alcoholic beverage with very few calories.

In the UK, feedback inspired the company to increase the sugar to 2g and add a few calories in order to appease consumers that wanted a bolder taste. “We thought having those claims to emphasise on zero would be really valuable, and what we realised was actually just increasing the sugar a little bit and delivering that extra boost of taste was infinitely more valuable,” she says.

Brands are placed in Kuppin’s incubation division with the goal for them to graduate to the next stage and eventually join the core portfolio. “In this earlier stage, it’s mostly about testing, learning and understanding, and the refinement of these opportunities to progress to the next level for us to invest more money in them and for them to grow,” she says. “We work on it for a certain amount of time to answer questions we want answered and to have a higher degree of confidence that it should be successful. It’s all about de-risking innovation.”


Mike’s Hard Seltzer has now graduated, and it is being sold in the UK and other markets across Europe. And Kuppin has a few new projects to work on.

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