[interview] ‘After the lockdown, the first round is for Heineken’

Marc Josephus Jitta has worked for Heineken for over twelve years, most of which in Sales and Out of Home. He says he enjoys practical, smart marketing that is close to the consumer. The apres-lockdown campaign, which will hopefully be in the air towards spring, but which is still a secret, is what he calls ‘delicious’ in advance.

Heineken is working on a pleasant restart of the catering industry after the lockdown, when is it approximately expected?
Unfortunately, that cannot be said, the lockdowns are also all extended in the countries around us. As soon as later in the year the sun starts to shine, the terraces will fill up again and it is only natural that solutions have also been found for the smaller cafes and nightclubs. ‘

In Het Parool and in DPG Media’s De Ondernemer, Heineken is referred to as ‘first aid for the catering industry’. Do you feel that too?
‘In the first place, the entrepreneurs do it themselves. Their entrepreneurship and resilience is impressive. Imagine that literally everything you have worked for for years is taken out of your control. Then no one is told when you can open again, and if that does happen, all kinds of ifs and buts will follow at the last minute. The catering trade and the importance of the industry are thus underestimated. ‘

What we have done is stand shoulder to shoulder from the start and offer help where we can. Think of canceling events free of charge, returning beer, using technical services, coming up with solutions for liquidity problems, co-setting up the “Help the hospitality industry” campaign, and so on. In the second lockdown last autumn, we opted for customization. Possible solutions really differ from case to case, because no case, situation or business relationship is the same. Moreover, the problems are different for every company. So also the mix of solutions. None this time one size fits all approach, as in the spring of 2020, but customized per entrepreneur. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with all those entrepreneurs with whom we have often been working with for years and are in discussion with each entrepreneur individually to hear what is needed to take appropriate measures.

What we have done in this crisis from the outset is to be clear about what you can and cannot expect from us. We are constantly in touch to hear from our relations and feel where our help is most needed. ‘

How have the reactions been to Heineken’s attitude towards catering relations over the past 10 months? Are you optimistic about the hospitality industry in the Netherlands?
‘The reactions to our approach are mostly positive. Although you cannot make everyone happy. I understand the lockdowns: health and care are the most important. But closing cafes and restaurants for so long really requires more government assistance than is currently being given. All praise for the support, but it does not compensate for the real pain of the hospitality industry. The reserves are really running out. Many catering entrepreneurs find the complete lockdown justified. Shutting down the same part of the economy over and over again turns out not to work. The revival after the first wave of vaccinations should also benefit the entire economy. It would be nice if measures were taken that are not based on what you are – bar, restaurant, shop – but what you do on measures. Rules that apply to everyone. It is too simply said that the industry will come back. That a lot of money was made in the good years and that bankruptcies are part of entrepreneurship. That really ignores the enormous consequences of this crisis for entrepreneurs, staff and their families. I take into account a much smaller catering industry for many years. Not every company will make it, not every cafe that has disappeared will become a new business. And I’m not even talking about the event and festival industry. The longer the finish line is pushed forward, the more exciting it gets. The reserves are gone.

At the same time, I am and remain optimistic when you see how great the need is to go back to the hospitality industry. From the moment it is possible again, that flow will undoubtedly get going again. However, it is important that we manage to bridge the period up to that moment. ‘

We recently learned from Heineken CEO Hans Bohm that there is a week of free beer for the catering industry. Can you explain this? What is the purpose of this?
‘Liquidity is and remains the biggest concern in the hospitality industry. In any case, we take away our share of that pressure at the reopening. In addition, it also enables entrepreneurs to place their order earlier. This will help us to better coordinate the start-up together with our partner Sligro. Restocking everything and everyone from a standstill is an enormous operation. ‘

Will this campaign also receive media support towards consumers?
‘I think consumers are eager to order another freshly drawn glass of Heineken and they are more than willing to pay for it. I certainly do. This support is intended for the hospitality industry. ‘

Finally, any good intentions for 2021 that you want to share?
“Hang out at the bar again with a bunch of good friends in a nice café as soon as possible!”

Marc Josephus Jitta, catering director at Heineken Netherlands

text: Peter van Woensel Kooy

(photo Heineken Netherlands)

Heineken Horeca Netherlands in numbers:

– Heineken does business with approximately 20,000 catering establishments;

– Heineken is directly involved in the lease as a property owner in 130 buildings;

– According to the brewer, an intermediate lease construction applies to more than 700 buildings. This concerns about 600 property owners (there are owners with several properties);

– The vast majority of them rent elsewhere or own the property themselves. The brewer is therefore not involved in the lease.

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