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E-Malt.com News article: United States: Brewers resort to various tricks in order to win market share
Brewery news

MillerCoors LLC, the second-largest U.S. brewer by revenue, has begun testing the sale of $20 draft-beer systems for consumers to drink at home, the Wall Street Journal posted on July, 29.

The draft-beer systems are part of a string of new products and package innovation from beer giants grappling for market share in a crowded, slow-growing industry.

MillerCoors has begun testing the 1.5-gallon "Home Draft" for its biggest brands - Miller Lite and Coors Light - in about a half-dozen cities, including Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego. The boxed product, which is designed to fit into refrigerators for drinkers to consume periodically, rather than for one-time party use, comes amid packaging overhauls by the U.S. units of Heineken NV and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV.

Sales of major U.S. beer brands are struggling as some recession-weary consumers drink less or switch to cheaper brews. Many of the top-selling brands showed declining sales volume at retailers in the 13 weeks through July 12 compared with a year earlier, according to market tracker Information Resources Inc. Anheuser's Bud Light, the No. 1 brand, saw its sales volume slide 5.5%, while Heineken, the No. 9 seller, fell 15%. (The figures exclude sales at certain retailers that don't share data with such research firms.)

"In this economy, we are seeing an increase in packaging innovation" in consumer-goods industries, said Kara Gruver, head of the North America consumer-products practice at consulting firm Bain & Co. "In many cases, it can be less costly [than creating a new product] and a very effective form of innovation."

Chicago-based Miller Coors, a U.S. joint venture of SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co., is testing home-draft packages at a time when one of its major brands, Miller Lite, is mired in a prolonged slump. Despite a new ad campaign this year aimed at revitalizing the brand, Miller Lite's retail sales fell 7.5% by volume in the recent period tracked by Information Resources.

Sister brew Coors Light, on the other hand, continues to post sales gains. Analysts attribute its long-running success in part to innovations in packaging, such as "cold-activated bottles," whose labels turn blue when the beer inside cools to a certain temperature.

MillerCoors's new Home Draft systems are meant to be placed upright in a refrigerator, which will keep the beer fresh for about 30 days. The price per ounce is roughly 15% higher than for an 18-pack of the same beer, MillerCoors said.

The product, which is recyclable, is aimed at the 30% of beer drinkers who say they prefer draft beer to the bottled or canned variety, said Andy England, chief marketing officer at MillerCoors. "We're really trying to meet that occasion when you just got back from work and want to reward yourself," rather than "the party occasion," he said.

Home Draft - which carries about 5.7 litres - bears some similarities to Heineken's five-litre DraughtKeg, which the Amsterdam-based brewer introduced in the U.S. in 2005. But the DraughtKeg generally is designed to consume all at once, unless drinkers buy an optional BeerTender countertop chilling system, which is sold at retailers for about $200.

The performance of the DraughtKeg may hint at the challenge MillerCoors could face to woo consumers. The DraughtKeg enjoyed an explosive start in the U.S., but Heineken pulled back on distribution as sales cooled and the company learned the product is most popular around holidays, the football season and other social occasions.

Heineken this month began testing the sale of Newcastle Brown Ale in the DraughtKeg format - about $20 at retailers - in Chicago, Minneapolis and Southern California. The company continues to focus on innovation in packaging "in a way that reinforces the premium nature of" its brands, said Christian McMahan, chief marketing officer at Heineken USA.

The U.S. unit of Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser plans to unveil new can and box designs for brands such as Bud Light when the football season gets under way next month. As part of the shift, the company says it intends to better leverage its sponsorship of the vast majority of National Football League teams by creating packages showing the colors or logos of teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, it also will roll out packages with generic colors tailored to college teams in specific regions - such as red-colored cans in Nebraska, home of the University of Nebraska's Cornhuskers.

"It's an opportunity to tap into the passion people have for their teams," said Dave Peacock, president of Anheuser's U.S. arm, which is the biggest American brewer by sales. The company's research has shown that the most loyal consumers of its light beers "associate with sports in a dramatic way."

Brewers including Anheuser also plan some new beers in addition to new packaging. Anheuser intends to test Budweiser Select 55 - a brew with just 55 calories - in several markets later this year, as it tries to compete better with MillerCoors's MGD 64, a 64-calorie brew that is off to a strong start. Mass-market brews such as Bud Light, Miller Genuine Draft and Budweiser are roughly in the 100 to 140 calorie range.

29 July, 2009

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