LABATT BREWS UP PLANS FOR MEXICAN IMPORT SOL IN EFFORT TO GAIN CROWN: BEER TO EXPAND NATIONALLY FROM CALIF., TEXAS

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Labatt USA plans to broaden the distribution of Mexican import Sol this year as it seeks to surpass Heineken USA as the country's biggest purveyor of foreign beers.

Labatt is slated to bring Sol to key Western markets within the next six months and to markets around the U.S. by early 2000, according to wholesalers who attended a Labatt meeting last week in Florida.

Labatt markets Sol mainly in California and Texas. A Labatt spokesman denied there were plans beyond these two states.

Sol comes in a clear bottle with a painted label, and Labatt is hoping to take advantage of the popularity of Mexican brews and position Sol as a competitor to No. 1 import Corona Extra, marketed by Barton Beers and Gambrinus Co.

"It will be a direct competitor to Corona," said a wholesaler.

HEAVY INTO OUTDOOR ADS

Labatt supported Sol with some TV in southern California, but outdoor advertising will be the medium of choice as the revitalized brand expands, wholesalers said. Labatt picked up Sol in 1995 when it acquired Wisdom Imports, and relaunched the brand last year.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide's Amster Yard, New York, handles.

One reason Labatt would love for Sol to imitate the success of Corona is that new President Paul Cooke last year announced he wants Labatt to topple Heineken as the country's biggest beer importer within five years .

PROFITS TO MARKETING

To reach that goal, Labatt USA's parents-Labatt Brewing Co. in Canada and Femsa in Mexico-are letting the importer reinvest profits in marketing.

Shipments of Labatt beers grew 15.1% to 3.2 million barrels in 1998, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, although much of that volume comes from Rolling Rock, from Labatt USA's Latrobe Brewing Co.. Heineken USA shipments grew 7.5% to 3.6 million barrels.

In another move to boost share, Labatt in October will take over the Lowenbrau brand from Miller Brewing Co.

ORIGINAL RECIPE

In addition to going back to the beer's original recipe and brewing it in Canada, Labatt plans to bring packaging in line with the German model and boost the price. The beer, which has languished under Miller, will be positioned against European imports.

Labatt also plans to target Mexican immigrants in a new campaign for its Tecate brand. The new campaign will feature Mexican street musicians who croon ballads about the beer.

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