Big bets pay off for Molson Coors in 2021

After an unprecedented year in 2020 where it felt like things ground to a halt, Molson Coors Beverage Company bounced back in 2021 with the reopening of bars, restaurants and sports and entertainment venues, and launched a slew of new products and ambitious marketing campaigns.

The company announced plans to invest more than $100 million to boost its production capabilities for beer and hard seltzer in Canada and U.K., while bearing the fruits of similar investments in the U.S. It made significant progress on its sustainability strategy, helping its barley farmers adapt to changing conditions and transitioning its U.K. operations to 100% renewable energy.

Its biggest brands, Coors Light and Miller Lite, are growing in dollar sales through the third quarter in 2021, and its hard seltzer portfolio took off in the U.S. and beyond.

Here’s a look at the biggest bits of news from the company in 2021:

Big brands perform

Despite a difficult start to the year with a freak storm in Texas that shut down beer production, a cyber-security incident that disrupted business and a pandemic that wouldn’t quit, Molson Coors turned in promising returns through the third quarter.

In the U.S., Coors Light and Miller Lite grew the top line through the third quarter in 2021. Coors Light also grew volume in Latin America, including its first growth in Puerto Rico in 15 years, through the third quarter.

The company’s duo of U.S hard seltzers, Vizzy Hard Seltzer and Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, outperformed the segment by an astonishing amount. Overall, Molson Coors’ hard seltzer brands have gained nearly 88% in dollar sales in the U.S. versus the prior year, according to IRI multi-outlet and convenience store data through Dec. 19. The segment overall grew 14%

In Canada, booming growth of Coors Light and a breakout performance from the hard seltzers Vizzy and Coors Seltzer helped Molson Coors post across-the-board growth through the third quarter.

Meanwhile in Europe, where bar, pub and restaurant re-openings helped boost net sales revenue nearly 15% in the third quarter, Molson Coors announced a new leader to start 2022: Sergey Yeskov, managing director of the company’s Central and Eastern Europe region, will take over for the retiring Simon Cox effective Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Staropramen's Pravha lager continued to perform above expectations in Central and Eastern Europe.

Rock solid

If there was one thing that Molson Coors CEO Gavin Hattersley repeated through 2021, it was this: “Our plan is working.”

Indeed, the revitalization plan Hattersley implemented in late 2019 is paying off. With its core brands growing and its hard seltzers outpacing the segment, the company made significant progress on its transformation in 2021.

None of those strides was more notable, perhaps, than its moves beyond the beer aisle.

It started with the seismic news that Molson Coors was partnering with a team led by the world’s biggest movie star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to bring his ZOA energy drink to market in the U.S. Now a top-15 energy drink, ZOA is the top-selling new entrant in the category, per IRI, and can be found in more than 30,000 retail locations around the U.S.

Another major non-alcohol play is its partnership with La Colombe Premium Coffee Roasters. What began as a limited distribution partnership exploded in 2021, when Molson Coors unlocked the rights to distribute La Colombe’s line of canned coffee drinks to grocery and big-box stores across the U.S.

The year also saw two big developments out of Colorado, where Truss CBD USA, a joint venture between Molson Coors and Canadian cannabis company HEXO Corp., launched its first CBD beverages from Veryvell across the state; Veryvell is now available for online purchases in 17 states.

And this summer, Molson Coors introduced its very first foray into full-strength spirits, with the introduction of Coors Whiskey Co.’s Five Trail, a blended America whiskey that launched in five markets.

But, as Hattersley reminds people, beer is at the heart of Molson Coors, and in June, the company took a stake in TRU Colors Brewing, a Wilmington, N.C., brewery with a social mission to end gang violence. It employs active gang members from rival groups in positions across the business, from brewing to marketing and beyond. In September, TRU Colors’ first beer, TRU Light, was released across North Carolina.

Innovation pays off

Molson Coors leaned heavily on innovation in 2021, with a series of new products that aim to premiumize the company’s beverage portfolio.

Without question, the biggest product launch was that of Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, which Molson Coors produces, distributes and markets as part of an agreement with The Coca-Cola Company. Initially available in just 16 markets, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer quickly won over consumers. Bolstered by its fast start, Molson Coors announced it would take the brand national in January 2022.  

Hard seltzers made a big splash in Canada, as well, with Vizzy and Coors Seltzer launching in February 2021 and working their way to a double digit share of the Canadian market through the third quarter.

In craft beer, the company orchestrated two major national launches: Blue Moon Brewing Co. took its gold medal-winning hazy pale ale, Moon Haze, national in August; meanwhile, Blue Moon LightSky continued to be a hit with drinkers. In April, Hop Valley Brewing launched its series of Cryo-hopped IPAs across the U.S. and followed by launching flagship Bubble Stash on draft in Canada.

Coors, meanwhile, introduced its first USDA-certified organic beer, Coors Pure, in March.

In the U.K., Madrí Excepcional, Molson Coors' collaboration with Spain's La Sagra Brewery, got off to a blazing start, doubling its distribution goals.

Making a splash with marketing

The company also made big bets in marketing, bringing to life award-winning campaigns that resonated with drinkers across the U.S.

Molson Coors’ brands banded together in July to encourage people to come back to the on-premise with the promise of a beer on us, the first time all of its brands had participated in a portfolio-wide marketing campaign.

Miller High Life made headlines with two catchy promotions. First, it won Milwaukee City Council approval on an initiative to establish the Champagne of Beers region. The resolution establishes the Miller Valley of Milwaukee brewery as the only place to produce the Champagne of Beers.

Then in early December, High Life captured hearts and minds across the U.S. with its holiday-themed gingerbread dive bars, complete with mini neon signs, gingerbread regulars and a pool table with edible cues.

Miller Lite announced a partnership with reggaeton superstar J Balvin in what amounts to its biggest investment in the Latino market ever. The brand even turned its packaging over to J Balvin, whose colorful flair was splashed across special editions of Miller Lite cans.

The brand’s drinkable holiday ornaments – er, Beernaments – also made a splash when they were announced as a limited-time promotion earlier this month, as did Blue Moon’s Vax Cardigan, which features a plastic pouch for the season’s must-have accessory: proof of vaccination.

And Coors Light celebrated the second anniversary of its successful “Made to Chill” campaign with the brand’s best performance since 2015, while growing share of total beer for the first time in five years.

Coors Light also brought back some favorite characters. It re-introduced fans to its iconic Beer Wolf character, who made his first appearance in 30 years in a limited-edition merch line. The brand also brought back its Beerman character for an encore performance to ring in the holidays with a fresh line of seasonal merchandise.

After a busy 2021, Molson Coors is looking ahead to an equally exciting 2022. New products, partnerships, innovations and more are on the horizon, aiming for growth, Hattersley says.

“The revitalization plan has one simple goal and that is to drive top line revenue growth and bottom line profit at the same time. And the foundation that we’ve laid over the last two years sets us up to do exactly that in the years ahead. So from a revenue point of view, we already were growing some of our biggest brands through the third quarter 2021. And we intend to build on that with even more brands in 2022,” he says.