Molson Coors’ ‘new day’: Big brands and big bets lead 2021 strategy

Flanked by members of the Yuengling family in Pottsville, Pa., where he just announced a historic partnership, Molson Coors Beverage Company CEO Gavin Hattersley heralded “a new day at Molson Coors.”

Hattersley, speaking to the company’s beer distributors at its virtual fall meeting, pointed to newly inked joint venture with D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. as further evidence that Molson Coors will continue to make big bets and transform itself into a more modern, diversified company.

Hattersley and other executives laid out a vision for 2021 that builds on the growth posted by Molson Coors’ core brands, Miller Lite and Coors Light, and created by new entrants, including Vizzy Hard Seltzer and Blue Moon LightSky.

And they told distributors to expect plays supporting its largest brands and big bets behind innovations in the above-premium and better-for-you spaces in the months ahead.

Big investments behind big bets

In recent months Molson Coors has introduced a slew of new products in response to consumer demand for seltzers, spritzers, innovation and the growing non-alcohol space. Its two biggest successes — Blue Moon LightSky, which ranks as the top new beer innovation in 2020; and Vizzy, a Nielsen Top-10 Growth Brand — continue to rack up sales.

And Molson Coors is bullish on the prospects of long-awaited Coors Seltzer, which began hitting retail shelves earlier this month.

“For 2021, we will build on that momentum. Our No. 1 priority will continue to be our biggest bets: Vizzy, Coors Seltzer and LightSky,” said Michelle St. Jacques, Molson Coors’ chief marketing officer. “Now we are ready to go big with a full portfolio approach to seltzers. And we are leaning into these brands big time for 2021 with more investment, more innovation and more supply.”

The demand for hard seltzers has upended the beverage industry – up 200% for the year, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience store data through Sept. 5 – and Molson Coors is making significant investments to meet anticipated continued growth in 2021.

The company poured millions into its Fort Worth brewery to grow production of its seltzers sixfold, and has seen positive consumer response to Coors Seltzer, which St. Jacques said “can and should be the No. 1 popular beer brand in the segment.”

On top of that, it plans to launch early next year a third seltzer made with premium ingredients called Proof Point.

To support its three seltzer plays, the company plans to spend tens of millions more in 2021 to further ramp up production capacity, said Brian Erhardt, Molson Coors’ chief supply chain officer.

“We want to accelerate share in seltzers and in future innovation — and we’re making the financial investments we need to do that,” he said.

Seltzers, captivating as they are, represent just one part of Molson Coors’ 2021 vision.

Focus on core brands

St. Jacques said continuing to build momentum behind its core brands – Miller Lite and Coors Light – remains a top priority.

The company plans to continue to invest behind those brands, each of which rode significant momentum in 2020, even as the coronavirus pandemic choked off the lion’s share of on-premise sales.

With 23 quarters of consecutive share growth, Miller Lite has led the premium light category in volume growth for the year, posting year-to-date growth of 8.6%, per Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through Sept. 5.

And Molson Coors plans to continue building on its “It’s Miller Time” campaign, which stresses the value of personal relationships – even when in-person interactions may not be possible.

Coors Light, meanwhile, hit gold with its “Made to Chill” campaign – “I’m pretty sure there was no more suitable campaign during a pandemic than ‘Made to Chill,’” St. Jacques quipped. 

That helped the brand to its largest share ever of the premium lights segment and year-to-date volume growth of 6.6%, per Nielsen.

It, too, will remain on its “Made to Chill” platform, with plans to take the campaign into new territory in the months ahead.

Innovation and expansion

The biggest news of the day was the freshly inked deal with Yuengling.

That partnership will bring Yuengling’s famous Traditional Lager, Black & Tan and Flight light lager to 25 states outside its existing 22-state distribution area. The expansion will be “measured and methodical,” the company reported yesterday.

“Our new partnership is a huge growth opportunity for Yuengling. It’s a huge growth opportunity for Molson Coors. And at the end of the day, we’re going to make a whole lot of Yuengling fans out west really happy,” Hattersley said.

Molson Coors also is branching off the Coors franchise next spring with Coors Pure, a sugar-free, USDA-certified organic beer with 92 calories and simple ingredients. The above-premium brand will come in three flavors: pure light beer, citrus and berry.

Finally, the company is putting renewed focus behind another of its iconic brands, Leinenkugel’s.

The Chippewa Falls, Wis.-based brewery was boosted by a resurgence in sales by flagship Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and the solid debut of beer-and-seltzer hybrid Leinenkugel’s Spritzen.

Under Molson Coors’ craft division, Tenth & Blake, Leinie’s plans two new products: Toasted Bock, a sessionable winter seasonal with notes of chocolate and roasted nuts, is set for release this winter; and Lemon Haze IPA , which performed well in on-premise tests in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, will follow.

Moving beyond beer

While beer remains at the core of Molson Coors’ portfolio, Hattersley said the time has come for the beverage maker to move the industry’s needle by pushing into new categories.

The company signaled its intent to embrace an expanded portfolio at the start of 2020 with a corporate rebrand that replaced “beer” with “beverage” in its name.

“We’re not straying from beer – it’s rooted in our company’s history. It’s what we do,” Pete Marino, president of emerging growth, told distributors. “But…we had to evolve…we must go further to make your trucks and stops more profitable, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

That includes a full slate of non-alcohol and beyond-beer products, including:

Truss: One of the more understated efforts the company has made is its Quebec-based joint venture with HEXO Corp., Truss Beverage Co., which recently launched a roster of cannabis-infused beverages across Canada. Early sales figures are beating expectations, Marino said.

Truss USA will launch its first CBD-infused beverages in the Denver area in late October, with three flavors of its Veryvell product.

L.A. Libations: Last week, Molson Coors announced a slate of non-alcohol products developed by L.A. Libations to reach more consumers seeking better-for-you options. Already available is probiotic seltzer Huzzah!, which comes in three flavors: Strawberry & Hibiscus, Juicy Pear and Raspberry & Lemon. It launched direct-to-consumer sales via its website, and plans to roll out in retail stores in Southern California this month.

There’s more to come from L.A. Libations, including:

  • MadVine, a plant-based diet soda with zero calories, zero sugar and zero artificial ingredients. Infused with monk fruit and a slate of recognizable ingredients like bourbon vanilla, yuzu lemon and black cherry, MadVine will launch in three flavors: Clean Cola, Yuzu Lemon-Up and Dr. Stepper.
  • Golden Wing, a grain-based milk alternative with protein and nutrients that’s made with top-quality barley and no additives, stabilizers or frothing agents.
  • And a yet-to-be-named nootropic performance beverage targeted at gamers and game developers. The beverage aims to provide enhanced focus, nutrition and improved performance without giving drinkers the jitters associated with high-caffeinated drinks.

“We are committed to take action that will position our business – and that of our distributors – to lead the industry forward,” Hattersley said. “That’s why we’re making big investments, … leaning into what’s been working with Coors Light and Miller Lite, … making big bets to accelerate the growth of Vizzy, Blue Moon LightSky and Coors Seltzer, and lunching bold new innovation.”