Earlier this year, Andy England was deposed for eight hours by the Department of Justice. The CMO of Coors Brewing was one of many top-level executives grilled about a variety of potential antitrust issues leading up to the merger of MolsonCoors and rival SABMiller.
Amid the proceedings, an unusual document came to light. The female justice slid a memo from one of England’s senior technical people across the table. “Are you familiar with this? Do you remember receiving this e-mail?” England recalled her asking him.
The subject of the memo: “Space Beer.” The ploy of sending yeast into orbit on a space shuttle and bringing it back to Earth was one of the literally thousands of ideas England and his team had come up with since he joined the company in February 2006.
“They were very amused. She had to know if we’d done ‘space beer,'” he said. England’s team never did get around to brewing any cosmic Coors.
The DOJ proceedings went off without a hitch. The deal was approved in June. England, 44, is now in charge of not only marketing Coors’ entire line-up of beers (Coors Light, Coors Banquet, Blue Moon and Keystone Light), he also inherited Miller Brewing’s roster, which includes long-time foes Miller Lite and Miller High Life.
England’s openness to new ideas, especially on the packaging front, is one of the reasons that the Coors portfolio continues to succeed in a down economy and why England was named lead marketer for the MillerCoors juggernaut.
As the beer category has remained flat for much of this decade, Coors Brewing’s second quarter sales to retailers, premerger, were up 5.1%, per Beer Marketer’s Insights, West Nyack, N.Y., the industry bible. “Coors keeps trucking along. They have four very healthy brands that have been outperforming the category for some time,” said Benj Steinman, editor of the publication.
Coors Banquet sales volume rose 5.3% to 1.2 million barrels in 2007. It was one of the only top domestic full-calorie beers from a big brewer to actually grow last year. Coors Light jumped 3.6% to 17.3 million barrels. Both were on a similar pace for the first half of 2008. Meanwhile, its smaller brands, Blue Moon and Keystone Light, rose 66.7% to 750,000 barrels and 10.9% to 3.5 million barrels, respectively.
It isn’t just the open-mindedness of England and his team that has led to this success. In fact, it is more of closed-mindedness. Once a brand positioning is decided upon, the Coors team hammers it home to the point that the consumer can’t help but understand the brand’s attribute. Coors Light is “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer” while Coors Banquet is all about the brand’s blue-collar heritage (see sidebar story, page 6).
“Andy continuously pushes his marketing team to use consumer research to find a brand’s unique positioning and stick to that positioning in every touchpoint,” said Lee Dolan, vp of Coors family of brands. “Our positioning is always based on true brand benefits. In the case of Coors Light, our frost brewed process is one of our cold refreshment proof points. He’s got a great, dry British sense of humor, even when he’s relentlessly pounding brand positioning into our heads.”
Such positioning wasn’t all that complex. After researching the matter, the company decided that Coors Light should “own” refreshment, hardly a breakthrough idea in beer marketing. But the execution was another matter. The word “relentless” was used time and again to describe England’s singular focus on a consistent brand message. Meanwhile, England channeled his innovative instincts into tweaking the packaging.
Two such innovations, Coors Light’s Vented Wide Mouth can and Cold Activated bottles, have helped differentiate the brand. The vented can makes for a better pour (see above) while thermochromatic ink—a dye which changes colors when the temperature changes—reveals a blue illustration of the Rocky Mountains when the beer reaching the optimum drinking temperature. “We take what’s out there and make it relative to our brand,” England said. “The inks have been around as long as Tang.”
You might guess that Joe Sixpack would be unamused, but you’d be wrong. “The packaging stuff really works,” said Steinman. “It doesn’t cost them a lot of money. That’s really appreciated. Wholesalers really like [England].”
“Andy is very engaging in getting your answers,” said one East Coast wholesaler. “He’s a great listener and he’ll start a conversation with ‘What do you think about this?’ or ‘In your experience what do you think about that?’ He’s not one of those guys who comes here with a program and tells us what he thinks we should be doing.”
That ’70s Brand
After many such conversations, England decided that Coors Banquet needed to return to its roots. The brand has a storied heritage about quality high country barley. Before it received national distribution, fans of the beer went to great lengths to bring it back to their home states. “There is all this great imagery about what Coors Brewing Co. has been all about. We kind of lost it along the way,” said England. “When you look at the historical reel, the advertising looked very ’70s but there were some fresh ideas that needed some rejuvenation.”
New Coors Banquet ads, launched in April, feature the gravel-voiced actor Sam Elliott narrating the origin of how the beer got its nickname, “Coors Banquet.” One spot explains how miners, after a hard day’s work, got together to throw back some drinks. The early settlers of Colorado dubbed the get-togethers “banquets.”
“In our industry in particular, there is a prevailing thought that I need to worry an awful lot about what twentysomething legal drinking males are into,” said England. “You see this kind of herd behavior where people run toward whatever is new and big with the target audience. If you keep running after the new genre of music or new exciting TV program or new movie and it doesn’t have any of the same attributes of your brand, then you’re not really saying anything about your brand. The key is to avoid bright shiny things.”
Like a Kid in a Candy Store
England was never the sort to be distracted by such shiny things. But he was attracted to sweet things. As a child growing up in the U.K. England found himself mesmerized by the candy shop at the end of the street. “Once I realized at age nine or 10 that people had to work for a living and that they had a choice of jobs, I looked at the guy who ran that sweet shop with just amazement,” England said. “It’s a great job.”
That fascination led to his “dalliances” at Hershey (where he was vp from 2002-06) and Cadbury Schweppes (vp from 1985-97). “In many ways beer is the adult equivalent. It’s a fun category guys enjoy. Everything in my career comes under the headline of unnecessary food and beverages. That’s kind of what I do.”
During his tenure at Hershey, England said he learned a great deal about brand fit, not to mention how to position one brand against another. At Cadbury, where he marketed soda, he learned what it was like to work with a bottler network. This experience has served him well. “He’s very active,” said the wholesaler. “We don’t get a lot of top marketing guys to come here and sit down with us. But he’s visited us several times and he goes out into the trade and talks to retailers to see how things work out there.”
In the wake of the MillerCoors joint venture, England will continue to put his expertise to good use as he tries gets behind Miller Lite. England’s already put his stamp on the brand. Harkening back to Coors’ segmentation study of the premium light category, he said he will now focus on taste. Thus, the Bob Uecker-era “Great Taste. Less Filling” line was pulled out of cold storage and tacked onto a series of ads airing during football season.
“Miller Lite grew with that message,” England said. “It’s still on the secondary packaging. The concept of taste will be amplified. When you go back and look at the campaign, it’s got a great line in it: ‘Everything you wanted in a beer, and less.’ I think remembering our past and what made brands what they are today is important.”
Will it work? An East Coast Miller distributor was willing to cut England some slack. “He’s done a great job with Coors Light, but now we’ll really see how good he is. He has to get Miller Lite to grow,” said the distributor. Meanwhile, analysts are upbeat about the joint venture’s prospects, mostly because the union will squeeze out $500 million in costs by 2010. Even that savings estimate could be conservative, says Kaumil Gajrawala of UBS Investment Research. The Chicago-based operation should wield more clout with beer distributors as it pushes toward consolidating into a network with big metro markets serviced by fewer, yet larger, beer houses.
That direction could help the company get more focus for its brands and compete against Anheuser-Busch, which sells 60% of its beer through exclusive A-B wholesalers. Notably, that figure is down from a peak of 70% as more A-B wholesalers went nonexclusive and added brews like Yuengling and New Belgium.
MillerCoors will need such momentum considering that Coors Brewing, while growing retail distribution to 95,000 new accounts last year, is looking up the mountain at A-B, which has at least 650,000 points of retail distribution. On the marketing front, England will have to continue the momentum of Coors Light, which has grown partly at the expense of Miller Lite, now a sister brand that needs to be reenergized. The high-wire act beer industry observers will be watching balances on whether marketing can differentiate two low-calorie lagers not only from Bud Light, but from each other.
In other words, England’s got his work cut out for him shepherding the likes of Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Grolsch, Pilsner Urquell and Castle Lager. Somewhat surprisingly, the inherited brand that England is most excited about working with is Peroni. In his opinion, the European lager brewed in Italy has a built-in positioning.
“It’s all about Italian style and it has a product that backs it up,” he said. “It’s lifestyle driven and it has the right combination of body and drinkability. I look at that and say, ‘That’s going to work.'”
Italian beer also is a lot cheaper to import than space beer.
Photo by Patricia Barry Levy.