BREWERS TURN BACK TO THE FAMILIAR

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LAS VEGAS-After several years of pushing new brands, the brewing industry may be ready to take a short breath long enough to return attention-and ad support-to some old favorites.

Executives of Anheuser-Busch, Coors Brewing Co. and Miller Brewing Co. attending the National Beer Wholesalers Association convention here last week all indicated bolstering existing brands may take precedence over major new brand introductions next year.

That doesn't mean brewers will abandon new products, and their eyes may focus on the specialty segment, as Seagram Beverage Co. used the show to unveil its first beer, called Coyote. However, few if any new beers will get the extensive advertising of ice beers two years ago or Miller's Red Dog last year.

A-B, believing Budweiser has finally turned around its decline, will concentrate on two new secondary campaigns for that brand, said August A. Busch IV, VP-brand management.

A new "quality" pitch will suggest the Budweiser on store shelves is fresher than rivals and may be combined with easier to read freshness dating on packaging. Meanwhile, a major Olympics campaign will pitch all Budweiser brands. DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, handles Bud and Bud Light.

Coors Brewing Co., after several years of mainly touting Zima along with flagship Coors Light, will cut back on Zima support to return to major advertising for its Coors brand, said Bill Weintraub, senior VP-marketing. Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, handles.

Miller, while continuing its Miller Lite campaign from Leo Burnett USA, is expected to put much of its additional efforts into Red Dog and Miller Genuine Draft.

Chairman-CEO Jack MacDonough said Red Dog isn't following the traditional new-product curve of high trial followed by cutback as consumers return to their regular brews. Red Dog rose spectacularly when introduced but growth only leveled off, he said, adding that new advertising from BBDO Worldwide, Toronto, may be all that's needed to rekindle growth.

Mr. MacDonough also indirectly seemed to back up speculation Miller Genuine Draft will get a new line extension next year. He said Miller feels Genuine Draft spent a decade attracting consumer attention mainly as the newest of major U.S. brews, but then got hurt when it had nothing new to report as newer brands entered the market.

While the brewers said their major immediate attention will be directed to existing brands, they cautioned that doesn't mean there won't be new brands. Mr. Busch in particular noted that with Budweiser returning to growth, and Bud Light and Michelob growing, A-B may be in a good position to look at new brews following the Olympics. A-B is due to start testing a new premium brand in November, but apparently sees the product as a smaller brand. Butler, Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif., will handle the new brand.

Mr. MacDonough, however, noted that the impetus to recent new brands-unusual ideas from abroad-doesn't seem to be there this year. There is nothing similar to the ice beers from Canada or the dry beers from Japan on the horizon, he said.

The big brewers will be keeping an eye on some of their smaller competitors, both for new beers and major industry changes.

Bill Henry, president of Stroh Brewery Co., and Lou Lowenkron, president-CEO of G. Heileman Brewing Co., both predicted major consolidation ahead; Mr. Lowen-kron acknowledged one of the surprises of the last week was Heileman-maker of Colt 45, Henry Weinhard and Lone Star-not filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

"Everyone seems to agree that some combination of Stroh, Heileman and Pabst [S&P] seems appropriate," Mr. Henry said.

Some smaller competitors used the show to showcase some new and successful products:

Seagram, a rumored suitor for Boston Beer Co.'s Sam Adams and other specialty brewers, showed its own brew. Coyote Amber Lager uses a black and copper label as well as a claim to be brewed by the "Black Moon Beer Co." The specialty beer has been in test in bars in four cities.

McKenzie River Corp. said it would launch its Black Star beer in San Francisco Oct. 16. Black Star, after an earlier test in Washington, has been in Montana for a year. Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, is handling advertising for Black Star.

Genessee Brewing Co. said its quick selling Jim Dundee's Honey Brown Lager will get much larger distribution shortly. Honey Brown, launched in November 1993 as a product of the "Highfalls Brewing Co.," has done well in some East Coast states and is now heading west. Pedrone & Partners, Boston, handles.

Ferolito, Vultaggio & Sons, marketers of Arizona Ice Tea, said it would introduce a Mississippi Mud black and tan lager this fall with bottles shaped like jugs. While best known for its ice tea products, the company also makes Crazy Horse malt liquor.

S&P Corp. showed its Red Bone red lager, with point of purchase using the Grab a Bone line. Asher/Gould, Los Angeles, handles advertising for the brand, now completing a national rollout.

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