Coors Light Sees First Sales Decline Since 2005

Despite Small Drop, Still Expected to Be Only Premium Brand to Post Full-Year Growth

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The Silver Bullet is finally slowing down.

Coors Light saw a "slight decline" in sales to retailers during the quarter ending Sept. 30, MillerCoors' parent, SAB Miller, reported today. The sales dip ends a streak of 16 consecutive quarters of growth for Coors Light that dates to 2005, a remarkable run that continued through the first six months of this year even as every other major premium beer brand -- Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Corona Extra and Heineken -- posted declines.

Coors Light had a particularly tough climb in the quarter because it posted an 8.5% gain during the year-earlier period. The brand is still expected to post growth for the full year, and it will likely be the only major premium beer brand to do so.

Premium beers have been hard hit by consumers trading down to cheaper brands, a trend that was evident in MillerCoors' results. Keystone Light posted double-digit gains during the period, and Miller High Life also grew to lift MillerCoors' below-premium portfolio by single digits. Overall, MillerCoors' total sales to retailers declined 1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Curiously, while trading down has boosted the bottom shelf at the premium category's expense, more expensive craft and import brands have fared reasonably well throughout the recession. And that, too, was clear in MillerCoors' results. The company's craft and import brands grew "slightly" during the quarter, led by high-single digit gains from Blue Moon. (The company also markets Peroni, Foster's and Killian's.)

Still, the end of uninterrupted Coors Light growth will add urgency to MillerCoors' toughest task: ending a string of declines for Miller Lite. The brand, essentially the company's co-flagship, posted a mid-single digit decline in the quarter.

The company has tried to focus the brand's messaging narrowly on taste, hoping for results comparable to the ones a similar one-note focus on "cold refreshment" got Coors Light, which was in a comparable tailspin before it started its current campaign. And, earlier this year, it even assigned Miller Lite to Coors Light's creative agency, DraftFCB.

But the agency's first efforts haven't moved the sales needle.

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