CHICAGO -- “In some ways, the younger generation is being water-boarded by [beverage manufacturers].”
Gavin Hattersley, CEO of MillerCoors, was blunt in his portrayal of the beverage industry while speaking to nearly 200 beverage-industry executives during The Beverage Forum in Chicago. But he also was keenly aware of his company’s need to play in many arenas to maintain an advantage.
Here are four segments in which Hattersley and MillerCoors are trying to get ahead in the company’s drive to “get back to volume growth.”
“I’m very bullish on hard sodas," Hattersley said, reflecting on MillerCoors’ introduction of Henry’s Hard Sodas in January.
Hattersley said Henry’s purposely avoided a hard-root-beer flavor to stand out in what is becoming a crowded field. Instead, the brand launched with orange and ginger-ale flavors.
“We think craft [beers] are here to stay,” he said. Not only does Hattersley reject the suggestion craft beer is a passing fad, but he’s also anxious to point out that Coors Brewing got in on the trend early.
“We entered the craft-beer industry 20 years ago with Blue Moon,” he said. And even before that, Miller Brewing had purchased the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.
The joint venture between Molson Coors and SABMiller established its Tenth & Blake division, dedicated to craft and import brands, in 2010 and currently owns two of the top five craft beer brands. It also has acquired new brands regularly, with more to come.
“We have a very strong place in craft beer,” Hattersley said. “We do have a very full strategy in how we want to fill in our craft portfolio.”
It’s no secret that low-calorie beers have struggled in recent years. That’s become an issue for MillerCoors, whose two largest brands are Coors Light and Miller Lite. Hattersley thinks that’s as much a perception issue as anything else.
“Our job is to make sure our brands are strong,” Hattersley said. In recent years, he said, light-beer advertising has ignored a large segment of its potential audience: women.
Recent campaign changes at MillerCoors have already made a difference in bringing back female consumers.
For Coors Light, it’s the Climb On campaign, which underscores the beer as a refreshing drink for active men and women (see related video below). And Miller Lite’s return to its heritage as the first light beer is also paying off, Hattersley said.
The MillerCoors portfolio includes beers and ciders from England, Australia, Poland and Canada, among other countries. What it doesn’t have is a Mexican import, the fastest-growing subcategory of beer in the industry.
Hattersley is realistic about the hole in the portfolio. “We don’t have [a Mexican import],” he said. “That’s a reality, and we have to deal with it. … We’re going to play with the brands that we have.”
That reality reflects what Hattersley said is MillerCoors’ “biggest challenge”: transforming the brewer’s portfolio to grow sales volume.
“We need to take more share [of up-and-coming segments] without losing focus on our premium light beers,” he said.