Miller Lite Marketing VP Leaving Brewer as Sales Slump

MillerCoors Says Grant Leech's Departure Is Unrelated to Brand's Struggles

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Miller Lite brand-marketing VP Grant Leech is heading for the exit, leaving MillerCoors as sales trends on the flagship light brew sag.

The brewer has yet to name a replacement for Mr. Leech, who has run Miller Lite since 2008 and has spent 14 years at MillerCoors and global brewer SABMiller, which owns MillerCoors in a joint venture with Molson Coors.

Mr. Leech's departure was first reported by Beer Business Daily.

"This is purely a decision made by Grant. It has nothing to do with the performance to date on the Miller Lite brand," MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green told Ad Age . "We certainly view this as a loss for the company given his talent."

But Miller Lite has struggled of late. Sales to retailers fell by "mid-single digits" in the second quarter, which contributed to a 2.7% sales decline across all of the brewer's brands in the quarter, MillerCoors reported during its recent second-quarter earnings call.

Case sales of Lite fell 1.83% in the year ended Aug. 7, according to SymphonyIRI, which does not include bar or restaurant sales, Walmart and liquor stores. Sibling brand Coors Light, meantime, grew case sales nearly 3% while Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light eked out 0.23% gain, according to SymphonyIRI. (Miller Lite is the fourth-biggest U.S. beer brand, with 7.5% share as of the end of last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.)

Under Mr. Leech, Miller Lite made a strong push on "taste" messaging. There is no indication that message will change significantly in the near term.

Miller Lite's slump has led to some speculation about the future of the brand's agency of record, DraftFCB, especially in light of the agency's recent loss of another key account, SC Johnson, which led to 100 layoffs in the agency's Chicago office.

But MillerCoors CEO Tom Long recently gave DraftFCB a public vote of confidence, telling Beer Business Daily that "we've had discussions with the folks at DraftFCB at all levels, and we are confident that not only will they not sacrifice resources on our work, they are increasing resources." He added: "I told them not to worry about [the speculation], just get back to work. We've got a lot of work to do."

The fruits of that work will be apparent in the coming weeks as DraftFCB rolls out new ads for the football season. The ads, and Lite's fall performance, are sure to be watched closely.

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