In a note to wholesalers today, Miller Brewing Co. CEO Tom Long said that the brewer, which forms a new U.S. joint venture with Coors Brewing Co. next week, will be going national with its 64-calorie version of Miller Genuine Draft by September.
The move means that MGD Light, the 110-calorie beer that had been Miller Genuine Draft's lighter version, will be discontinued. But given MGD Light's long-spiraling sales, and what Mr. Long characterized as "dramatic sales turnaround" for MGD 64 in western and Midwestern markets where it has tested since March, that doesn't figure to be much of a loss for Miller.
Will it stand out?
"For example," Mr. Long wrote, "in the Midwest, volume performance has improved by 20 trend points, turning the double-digit decline of a year ago into positive territory. That kind of performance is certain to grab the attention of any retailer interested in making more money."
Well, it's certainly more interesting to retailers than the steady drumbeat of steep sales declines that have dogged the MGD franchise since the mid-1990s. The full-calorie flagship -- which remains the most successful U.S. beer brand launch in the last quarter-century -- has been the worst-performing brand in the sector's worst-performing category (full-calorie premium domestics). It has annually introduced new campaigns in an attempt to break the slide, with little success. (This summer, hoping to find the right message, Miller is concurrently running two distinct campaigns for the brand from Y&R.)
Breaking the trap
MGD Light had been caught in the larger MGD's franchise's malaise, a trap that was likely exacerbated by its difficulty in differentiating itself from the similarly priced Miller Lite, which gets the bulk of the Milwaukee brewer's marketing and distribution focus.
MGD 64, the lowest-calorie domestic beer on the market, may have an easier time drawing distinctions. It'll also have what appears to be a substantial ad budget toward that end. Mr. Long wrote that the rollout would be backed by a national TV effort (from agency Y&R, Chicago), along with the mix of print, outdoor and radio support that's backed the brand in its test markets.
"You can count on an aggressive, fully integrated marketing plan to support the national expansion," he wrote.