Beverages

MillerCoors Makes Its Case

Joint venture shows nimbleness in bringing new products,ideas to market
MILWAUKEE -- In the 10 months since the completion of the MillerCoors joint venture in July 2008, the new company has had a lot on its plate: merging two product portfolios into one, establishing a new leadership hierarchy, developing money-saving synergies and reorganizing its distributor lineup. And if there's one thing chief customer officer and managing director of imports and crafts Kevin Doyle wants to get across about the process, it's that during this time, the company has not lost focus or lacked direction.

"It's been a nice journey and we have a long way to go, [image-nocss] but we're surely very, very happy with the progress we made about not dropping any cases along the way as we build the infrastructure and drive the new culture here at MillerCoors," Doyle said in exclusive interview with CSP Daily News.

The company took a couple of pretty good hits from retailers in a March CSP magazine story, in which MillerCoors was accused on lacking in communication and direction.

Acknowledging that any such comments, even if only from two retailers, deserve to be looked into, Doyle said he believes most retailers would say otherwise. "Yes, we do have a direction, and we do have a strategy, and I think if you ask our customers, they'll tell you they see that," he said. "It's called the MillerCoors Advantage, and it includes five building blocks."

Those are:
Brand portfolio Innovation Building ideas People Distribution systems "If you do a survey of the major accounts that we call on, you'll hear that we're more engaged, we're more focused against the channel, we put more resources on it and we're bringing more solutions to them than they've seen before," Doyle said. "From a retailer standpoint, I'm sure there have been short-term disruptions, but there's a long-term gain. It's actually gone fairly well, and the finish line is in sight."

The Milwaukee-based company is now focusing on new products and new packages to provide new opportunities to its retailers. For example, this month the company will launch cold-activated cans for Coors Light, which comes on the heels of last year's successful introduction of cold-activated bottles and cold-activated 24-oz. cans for c-stores.

"We're trying to get better throughput out of innovation on existing brands and packs," said Doyle. "We're also trying to think differently about different consumer needs, unmet needs and opportunities in the market place."

This Coors Light innovation comes as the company celebrates healthy growth for Coors Light, which was up more than 9% in sales for the 52-week period ending March 22, according to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago.

The company's other low-calorie juggernaut, Miller Lite was struggling to maintain share prior to the Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, and Molson Coors, Denver, coming together.

"We've worked really hard since the joint venture and we introduced our new positioning on Miller Lite, which is fundamentally the most important thing that consumers tell us about why they choose a premium low-calorie brand: That's taste," said Doyle. "That's what made Miller Lite famous, and you'll see us do very disciplined and very, very focused marketing to drive that message home. Miller Lite had been in decline. We've cut that decline and it's starting to get some traction."

For the year ending March 22, Miller Lite sales were down 1%, according to IRI.

Another tool in MillerCoors toolbox is the newly relaunched Miller Chill, which hopes to capitalize on a new positioning and the success of a key competitor: Bud Light Lime from Anheuser-Busch (A-B).

"Miller Chill is a fantastic brand that we've learned a few valuable lessons with over the last year, and we are relaunching and repositioning it with a reformulated product that has 100 calories," Doyle said. "We have a lot of heart for [this product]. We think we can get that business growing again, and we do believe there is a segment driven by 'light' and lime and the Latin culture and [new] flavors."

This and several other industry trends leave Doyle feeling positive about the future of the beer industry in general and MillerCoors in particular. "We're going to execute against our strategy, and our success is going to be defined by how many consumers prefer our brands and whether our customers prefer our service and our distributors prefer us as business partners. That will be the scorecard."

For more from this exclusive interview, watch for the July issue of CSP magazine.

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