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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Can We Just Quit Calling MillerCoors a Beer Company?

When you have effectively exited the beer business, these kinds of ideas seem brilliant:
CHICAGO—MillerCoors LLC plans to launch a lemonade-flavored version of low-calorie beer MGD 64, the latest effort by a big U.S. brewer to rejuvenate slumping sales....

The company expects the brew to attract new consumers to the beer category, and to capitalize "on the growing consumer interest in flavored beers," Andy England, chief marketing officer for Chicago-based MillerCoors, said in a memo to employees Friday.... MillerCoors also will unveil a new marketing campaign for the main version of MGD 64 later this year as part of an effort to strengthen the brand, Mr. England said in Friday's memo. [bold added.]
A couple of thoughts:
  1. A warning sign that you may no longer be a brewery is when you begin to conceptualize your market as the "beer category."
  2. Once you remove the beer from your beer and replace it with lemonade, do you actually believe the customers you're attracting are being drawn to beer?
  3. If your business has become peddling beers flavored with lime and lemonade, does your brand have anything to do with beer anymore?
The article, which comes from the Wall Street Journal, ends on a luxuriously ironic point--one clearly lost to doomed MillerCoors:
MillerCoors's beer shipments to distributors, a measure of sales volume, fell 3.4% last year.... The announcement of MGD 64 Lemonade comes at a time of declining sales volumes for mass-market brews in the U.S. The industry has been hurt by stubbornly high unemployment and rising competition from wine, distilled spirits and small-batch "craft" beers.
At the moment people are turning to full-flavor beer and away from gimmicky swill, MillerCoors has a lightbulb moment: more gimmicky swill!


  1. Desperate times for Big Beer calls for desperate measures. This is pretty sad, but they've got to keep growing their market. On the plus side, some of these lemonade beer drinkers will eventually become craft beer drinkers. So it's all good.

  2. Their version of Smirnoff Ice?

  3. Very third category:

  4. Some counterpoints, just to play the devil's advocate:

    Ron Gansberg and others make fruit-flavored beer and are heralded as geniuses

    Mixing lemonade and beer is a time honored tradition in Europe (and you can get a Radler at Hopworks). Lemon & lime in beer is also quite common in Latin America.

    As I recall, one of the heroines of Beer Wars was pushing the, dare I say, gimmicky concept of caffeinated beer. In general, it seems a bit hypocritical for the frequently novelty-chasing craft beer community to criticize big brewers for also putting out something designed to attract people because of its novelty.

  5. Don't ya hate copy cats? Widmer's had a beer with a lemon for years.

  6. I would actually differentiate between making beer with some lime in it (i.e. that Bud Lime stuff) versus making an actual "lemonade beer."

    It all tastes (or lack of tastes) like macrobrew, except when I've been forced to drink MGD at a sports venue or something I must say it does manage to taste worse than other macrobrews somehow.

  7. Kevin, a provocative and engaging rebuttal. I guess I'd make this distinction, while still granting you the "Philosophical Heavyweight of the Day" award:

    While the use of fruit is as old and traditional as beer itself, there's no sense that MillerCoors is trying to make a flavorful fruit beer. By mixing lemonade and MGD 64, they're shooting for a mildly alcoholic alcopop, not a traditional radler.

    And, while I get dinged for condemning without tasting first, my strong suspicion is that this beer will taste horrible. If not, I'll eat a steaming serving of roast crow. Happily.