MOLSON UNLEASHES ATOMIC TEA

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Canada's No. 2 brewer has been throwing a tea party this summer, but so far no rival hosts have emerged.

For Toronto's Molson Breweries, the beverage seems to be an uncontested splash into uncharted waters. With its Atomic iced tea, breaking in several provinces in mid-July, Molson has brought North America an entirely new beverage segment: malt-based iced tea.

Unlike the potent strain named for Long Island, Atomic iced tea's alcohol comes from the fermentation of hops and yeast rather than spirits, Molson said. But Atomic packs a punch, as print ads by BBDO, Toronto, attest with the no-nonsense tagline: "Atomic iced tea. 4.5% alcohol."

Molson is aiming for young adults, positioning Atomic against wine coolers. For the time being, plans are to sell the brew only during the summer.

However, high early sales might persuade the brewer to make the brand a perennial thirst-quencher, said Freda Colbourne, Molson's director of corporate communications.

Molson didn't release sales figures, but Atomic's sales are surpassing the marketer's expectations, Ms. Colbourne said, and the marketer may decide this month to keep brewing it into autumn.

"How Molson defines Atomic is the most important point," said Tom Pirko, president of beverage consultancy Bevmark, New York. "Reaching Generation X is very difficult because if you contrive your marketing too closely, you blow it. Coors' Zima is the perfect example."

Atomic's conquest of its Canadian target market is momentarily unchallenged. Labatt Breweries of Canada, Molson's chief rival and Canada's largest brewer, said it has no plans to market a competing malt iced tea. And U.S. marketers are also mum on plans for a rival product.

Atomic rolled out this summer in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Molson said it's awaiting sales results before deciding to expand to other provinces and territories, and disclosed no plans for trying it in the U.S.

Mr. Pirko predicts some measure of success for Atomic, as both beer and iced tea are popular in North America.

"We've seen things start in Canada and go nowhere. But it's fair to say that if a Canadian company makes a big effort up there, they'll try something down here," Mr. Pirko said.

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