Molson Coors's Economy Brands Show Gains as Segment Sinks

The economy beer segment is down 2.4% in volume sales for the 13 weeks ended Sept. 24 compared to last year. But Miller Coors Beverage Co. officials say Miller Coors's economy portfolio is growing in both dollar and volume sales.

In the fourth quarter of 2022, Miller Coors' four priority brands in the segment – Keystone Light, Miller High Life, Icehouse and Steel Reserve Alloy Series – collectively grew dollar share of the total category. That momentum has continued into 2023, with the entire economy portfolio growing both dollar and volume share of the segment, Circana data show.

“Molson Coors’ economy portfolio is growing, and we haven’t been able to say that in quite a while,” says Frank Cirone, senior director of marketing for Molson Coors’ economy brands. “What’s encouraging is that the growth isn’t driven by one brand. We’re seeing share gains across many of the brands in our portfolio though the second quarter.”

Molson Coors’ two largest economy brands, Miller High Life and Keystone Light, are leading the way.

High Life has grown volume sales by 2.5% versus last year, while Keystone Light has increased volume sales by 4.3%, according to Circana data for the 13 weeks that ended Sept. 24.

The brands, Cirone says, have been buoyed not just by consumer purchasing trends, but by smart partnerships and marketing platforms that have kept them at the forefront of legal-age beer drinkers’ minds.

“We have had some really strong plans behind our brands that created an open door, so when someone wanted a new option, they turned to us,” he says. “These national partnerships are relevant to our core drinkers, so we’re driving authenticity and are able to do it at scale.”

Miller High Life’s big year was boosted by a large-scale collaboration with Planters brand nuts, which included a merch collection and a dive bar on wheels, and linked together two iconic staples of bar culture. And it will close out 2023 celebrating its 120th anniversary with specialty packaging featuring its famous Girl in the Moon icon, as well as limited-edition merchandise celebrating The Champagne of Beers.

“The anniversary packaging offers our drinkers something special that fits in perfectly with the celebratory nature of the holidays and the new year. It gives retailers a flexible display solution that can last through the entire season,” Cirone says.

Miller High Life is surging in the on-premise, as well, where it’s the fastest-growing economy beer, according to Nielsen data through August 12. It aims to keep up the momentum with partnerships focused on bars, with more big news to come in 2024, Cirone says.

“We’re really excited about the major partnerships we have lined up for next year,” he says. “They’re perfect fits for High Life and its close association with dive bars and food culture.”

Meanwhile, Keystone Light’s work with outdoor lifestyle-apparel company Realtree® has attracted drinkers with an affinity for hunting, fishing, camping and more. The return of “The Hunt” contest and its blaze-orange can has driven interest in the brand, as well.

“We heard consumers loud and clear: they wanted ‘The Hunt’ back, so Keystone Light delivered. We’re already starting to think about how we can expand upon the program even more next year,” Cirone says.

Molson Coors is looking to grow its two other economy brands, Icehouse and Steel Reserve, as well.

With Icehouse, Molson Coors has been working with distributors in key markets to execute distribution drives, in-store merchandising and local media buys. This focused approach works, Cirone says.

“This is an example of where we’ll continue to amplify what’s working,” Cirone says. “In the markets where we execute this plan, our trends beat the national trend, so we’re going to expand this approach to even more markets.”

The brand has been buoyed by the reintroduction of its 8% ABV Icehouse Edge, which has helped grow sales volume in the last 13 weeks, according to Circana multi-outlet and convenience store data. In the 26-week that ended Oct. 8, it’s seen sustained momentum, boosting sales volume, Circana data show. In the Great Lakes region, sales volume during that time is up 13.3%, while in Ohio, it’s up more than 20%.

Meanwhile, Steel Reserve’s Alloy Series will enter 2024 with eight flavors, including new Cherry Slushie.

With its bright red color and sweet cherry aroma, it fits in perfectly with the rest of the Alloy Series’ flavor-forward offerings, says Joel Salgado, associate marketing manager for the brand.

“Cherry Slushie perfectly articulates what the Steel Reserve Alloy Series is all about: bold, delicious flavors that are equally refreshing,” he says. The 8% alcohol-by-volume beer is sold in 16- and 24-ounce cans, and is on shelves now.

With good news throughout the portfolio, Cirone says it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

“For our economy brands, we haven’t had an opportunity to ask for more floor and shelf space like this in years,” Cirone says. “And I’m confident our sales and distributor teams are doing everything they can to seize the moment and capitalize on that opportunity.”