Edison seizes the 'light'

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The big summer marketing season for beer is over. But a key architect for Samuel Adams Bost0n Lager is betting that the cold-weather season is as good a time as any to introduce a new brew with lofty goals.

The 109-calorie Edison Light Beer is rolling out in the Northeast this fall, with hopes for national distribution by early 2003, according to Rhonda Kallman, founder and CEO of New Century Brewing Co., Hingham, Mass. The company is trying to break into a beer category dominated by lights: No. 1 Bud Light from Anheuser-Busch Cos., No. 3 Coors Light from Coors Brewing Co. and No. 4 Lite by Miller Brewing Co. The only non-light in the top four is Anheuser's Budweiser.

Ms. Kallman claims her brew has a point of difference. "This is our flagship. We set out to make one beer. ... It's not a watered-down version of a flagship," said the executive, who was with Boston Beer Co. for 18 years. By the time she left the company in January 2000, she oversaw its $17 million marketing budget.

Shy of public funds, she now is working on a smaller scale. Edison's $1 million annual marketing plan will revolve around guerrilla promotions, such as an electric company cherry picker that New Century will position outside bars, and point-of-purchase materials. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, handles.

The target, as with most beer, is 21- to 29-year-old men, who consume half of the beer purchased in the U.S. Ms. Kallman said the target is attracted to light beer because they can drink more before becoming full. Men are less drawn by the reduced-calorie aspect of light beer, which lures the secondary market of women and baby boomers of both genders.

Light beer represents 43% of U.S. beer consumption, and New Century predicts it will account for 50% of consumption by 2003. The category's strength is evidenced by the fact that Bud Light eclipsed Budweiser this year to become the country's top-selling brew.

Ms. Kallman said an autumn launch is not problematic, despite competitors' strategy of getting products and ads to consumers before they break out the shorts. "It will be summer again next year," she said. Ms. Kallman said she wanted to launch the brew at the National Beer Wholesaler Association convention in Las Vegas in September, which she did.

Edison was developed by Joe Owades, the biochemist who invented the forerunner to Lite in 1967. Ms. Owades and Ms. Kallman started collaborating after she left Boston Beer. Produced by Matt's Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y., Edison clearly is not trying to lure full-bodied fans.

"Light-beer drinkers really don't want a lot of flavor. They don't want a lot of body. They don't want color. They want light beer," Ms. Kallman said. She predicted Edison would sell about 3,630 barrels through December, its first four months of production. In contrast, Bud Light last year sold 32 million barrels.

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