Aug 142012

After college in the early 70’s I took a job in Austin as a route salesman for Falstaff beer. At that time, Schlitz was #1 followed by the regionals, Pearl and Lone Star, with Falstaff and Budweiser not far behind. Heavy weights of today, Miller and Shiner, weren’t much back then and of course, crafts didn’t exist and Coors wasn’t in Austin yet. As far as brands were concerned, there were just Schlitz, Budweiser, Lone Star, Pearl, Falstaff, Miller and Shiner… no brand extensions and limited packages. In other words, the beer business was simple.

Late that summer, Miller tested a new beer, Miller Lite, which was priced .10 cents higher (that’s right, only a dime higher) and all the beer guys figured who would buy a beer with less alcohol that cost more? Well, everything changed from that point going forward.

By 1976, Coors had expanded into S. Texas and I was running one of the Coors houses in San Antonio. Coors had decided to test their new light “Coors Light” in San Antonio against Miller Lite which, by now, was established and beginning to grow behind their great ad campaign. The first Coors Light can was buff in color, similar to that of the current banquet package, with the word “Light” in red script. The package was lost in the cooler and the introduction wasn’t going well so after about six months, Coors changed to the silver can and red lettering. The rest is history.

Fast forward to the early 80’s. I was the owner of a large Schlitz operation in S. Texas near Mexico. I had just purchased the Pearl operation in McAllen, and we acquired a number of imported brands which put me in the position of the dominate distributor in imports. Our largest selling Mexican brand was Carta Blanca (true), but I had another beer that came in a brown bottle with a neck label in the colors of the Mexican flag. I couldn’t sell a layer, much less a pallet of the beer, but we kept at it. The next year the bottle was changed to a clear 12 ounce “long neck” in a 20 bottle loose case. It took off, and within two years our annual volume was now around 40,000 cases, obviously it was Corona.

Now add in Budweiser Light (the original name which also didn’t make it) around the same time and you have three new brands, one that was “refreshed,” all in that same decade, and all four in the top five selling brands in the US. Understand that all four needed to have name and/or package changes to survive.

Today what is growing are the PABs;  line extensions, such as BL platinum; flavored beers and fruit beers from Europe. Now does anyone out there think that any of these products will be as big as, say a Coors or Bud Light? I, however, was one of those salesman in Austin that said Miller Lite would never sell! It doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think, it’s what the consumer thinks. So, is it an elephant in the kitchen or just a mouse?

 Posted by at 8:28 am

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