Led by big brands, Molson Coors gains share in bars, taverns and restaurants in 2021

​The on-premise is back. And Molson Coors' big brands are leading the way in 2021.

Strong performances by Coors Light, Miller Lite and Blue Moon have helped elevate Molson Coors as the No. 2 share-gainer in the on-premise so far in 2021, according to data from Fintech and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

The company this year has picked up 0.6 points of share in the channel, boosting its total share to 24.5%.  

Leading the charge in draft sales for Molson Coors are Miller Lite and Blue Moon Belgian White, which rank as the No. 1 and No. 3 share-gainers this year, respectively. Coors Light, meanwhile, has picked up the third-most share in cans in the channel, growing a half a share point to 7.9%, the Fintech and NBWA data show. 

The share gains for Molson Coors come after a pandemic-plagued 2020, which resulted in widespread closures and a sharp decline in beer sales in U.S. bars and restaurants. 

But today, the channel is almost back to 2019 volume levels after a strong Thanksgiving holiday. And Molson Coors' and other large brewers' big brands have emerged as the biggest winners.

“As we saw during the height of the pandemic, consumers are going back to tried-and-trusted brands, and that has maintained into 2021,” says Hilary Jamieson, director of shopper marketing at Molson Coors. “The other insight that hasn’t changed is that consumers continue to look for value. They’re not looking for the cheapest products, but they don’t want to be ripped off, either.”

Other large brewers, including Anheuser-Busch and Corona-marketer Constellation Brands, also have picked up share in the on-premise this year, data show.

Another key to share growth of larger brands has been the decision by bars, taverns and restaurants to streamline their offerings, focusing on bigger, faster-moving brands amid continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and its aftermath. After the pandemic hit and governments mandated closures, many on-premise accounts had kegs upon kegs to dump and write off. And when taps slowly opened, many operators trimmed back, reducing variety and limiting further risk as the threat of another shutdown loomed by focusing on trusted brands they knew would turn.  

Indeed, the number of open draft lines in the on-premise climbed to more than 90,000 in November, with just under half of bars and restaurants holding open at least one line, per data from Draftline, a company that cleans draft lines for the on-premise. That’s up from just more than 40,000 open lines in January 2019.

For larger brewers like Molson Coors, it presented an “opportunity to reset, get back to basics and remind people what the traditional on-premise is all about – a neighborhood pub where close friends hang out to watch football or participate in trivia night or whatever it may be,” Jamieson says. “Those occasions are the key occasions for beers like American light lagers, which are so much more sessionable and easy to drink over the course of a longer period of time.”


‘The Great Reset’

This shift, which has sustained deep into 2021, represents a Great Reset. And it’s been supported by strong, relevant marketing campaigns, retail tools and programming that have helped keep those taps flowing, Jamieson says.

Since the initial shutdowns, Molson Coors has invested in a number of campaigns related to the on-premise. Miller Lite, for instance, has run several programs designed to support the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s USBG National Charity Foundation’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, including an initial $1 million donation in 2020. This spring, Blue Moon unveiled a campaign heralding the return of the on-premise, and over the summer Molson Coors ran a multi-brand campaign urging consumers to make good on their promise to get together have a beer.

“All of the above-the-line support for brands like Coors Light, Miller Lite and Blue Moon have certainly helped generate awareness and resonate with consumers,” Jamieson says. “The programming our marketing teams have put together to bring Miller Time and Made to Chill to life is working.”

That’s helped catapult Miller Lite to the top share-gainer in draft beer this year, picking up 1.5 points of share to command a 10% total share. That’s up from 8.5% in 2020 and 8.8% in 2019. Coors Light, meanwhile, has surged in cans, picking up 0.5 points of share in the on-premise, eclipsing its 2020 and 2019 share.

And although Blue Moon was slower to bounce back, the brand hit its stride over the summer and is nearly back to the distribution it had pre-pandemic, Jamieson says. “We’ve been more deliberate about getting Blue Moon front-and-center in on-premise accounts, particularly with meal occasions.”

On draft, the brand now ranks as the third-largest share gainer in the channel, with its share up to 6.7%, up from 6.3% last year and 6.6% in 2019.

What’s next?

For Molson Coors, the focus heading into 2022 is to keep the pressure on as the on-premise continues to surge in a post-pandemic world.

“We’re always looking for more opportunities for tap handles, but we can’t take our eye off the ball on those we already have,” Jamieson says. “We have to continue to drive engagement in existing accounts; if we lose one tap handle in a key account, it takes 10 to 15 drinkers in a new account to make up for the volume lost from one loyal drinker.”

In addition to pushing to grow core on-premise brands such as Coors Light, Miller Lite and Blue Moon, the company also is seeking to grow its stable of above-premium offerings such as Peroni, its regional craft brands and its emerging portfolio of hard seltzers.

While Vizzy and Topo Chico Hard Seltzer have turned in staggering growth in the off-premise channel in 2021, the on-premise remains a largely untapped opportunity, in large part because of the pandemic.

“We’re so ready to get going with commercializing Vizzy and Topo Chico in the on-premise,” Jamieson says. “With those two brands, the opportunity for us in 2022 is going to be so huge, and we are doing everything we can to ensure we maximize that.” ​