Paul van der Aar

Director Quality & NPI Management, Heineken USA

1. Why did you choose a career in quality assurance?

Having a PhD in yeast physiology and biotechnology, I started my Heineken career some years ago in the R&D department. As beer and cider are produced with yeast, it was a logical move. However, to get more engaged with beer production and to learn about real brewing, Heineken sent me to China where I became the Quality manager at our brewery in Shanghai. It was the right fit and I haven’t left Quality and Technology since.

2. What are the main responsibilities in your role?

As director of Quality & Innovation at Heineken USA, I’m responsible for ensuring the premium quality of all products in our portfolio for our consumers to enjoy, anytime, anywhere. As we import all our products, mainly from Holland, Mexico and UK, I work closely with these operating companies to ensure the best quality of products & packaging. Besides that, I’m the liaison between HUSA and the breweries for the development and launch of all new products (and packaging) for the US market.

3. What are your biggest challenges on a daily basis?

The biggest challenges are to balance world class premium quality, cost and service. We never compromise on quality (we put ‘premium quality’ on every Heineken label and can), but it has to be cost effective and to meet the consumers’ expectations. For innovations, the biggest challenge is to create a pull from consumers. You never know what you miss as a consumer until something new and exciting is there, so to do the research on this is pretty hard.

4. How do you envisage the role of QA developing in the next 5 years?

Technology will play even a more important role. Working through apps on smartphones to follow quality in the market, to get consumer feedback and to trend consumer behaviour will grow rapidly. For tracking & tracing of products and for communication directly/targeted to consumers, smart packaging solutions offer huge potential.

5. How have the expectations of younger consumers changed regarding transparency?

Everything is out there on the internet. Digital communication is key, especially for younger consumers. They are always on-line, 24/7. To provide reliable and trusted product information, showing company initiatives about sustainability and corporate responsibility is a must.

6. Will greater demand for transparency change how food and beverage companies work?

Definitely! Product and company information should be available immediately, either through scanning a QR, picture recognition or something else, it has to be smartphone ready. It’s crucial to know about all the ingredients and processes involved in making your food. This should provide trust in the products and the company. This trust will create loyal consumers (besides having the best tasting products, of course).