MILLER RELAUNCHES MOLSON CANADIAN: ALREADY TOP SELLER IN HOMELAND, BEER TO EXPAND U.S. DISTRIBUTION

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Miller Brewing Co. next month will expand distribution for fast-growing, repackaged Molson Canadian, which it ultimately hopes to establish as the lead Molson brand.

Miller is relaunching the brand in the Northeast, the stronghold for Canadian imports. The brewer, which imports the brand through part-owned subsidiary Molson USA, is overhauling the packaging to make it identical to that in Canada and supporting it with TV outdoor and radio from Y&R Advertising, New York.

$9.3 MIL FOR MOLSON BRANDS

Miller spent $9.3 million advertising the Molson brands in 1997, says Competitive Media Reporting.

Miller already has had success relaunching Molson Canadian in Michigan, upstate New York and Vermont. Its sales grew 28.9% to 1.6 million cases in 1997, according to Impact. Meanwhile, Molson Ice fell 9.2% to 10.8 million cases and Molson Golden dropped 1.5% to 5.8 million.

"Molson Ice still is a larger volume brand, but I wouldn't be surprised" if Molson Canadian ultimately passes it, said Rich Lalley, director-marketing for Miller's Allied Brands.

Miller's move is inspired by the brand's success in Canada, where it is Molson's biggest brew.

As with other Molson brands, Miller will stress the brand's Canadian link with ads featuring the McKenzie Brothers, comic Canadian characters who first appeared on the 1980s comedy show "SCTV."

COMPETITION HEATS UP

Competition has heated up in the Canadian category, with Labatt USA boosting marketing support behind Labatt Blue, which saw 1997 sales grow 23.7% to 9.1 million cases. This year Labatt broke its first national U.S. TV campaign, via Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.

A Molson wholesaler saw the new effort as a response to Labatt.

The new packaging "has helped with the [Molson] Canadian" brand in the U.S., the wholesaler said. "But Labatt is hot."

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