RHEINGOLD LINKING WITH METS AS BREW RELAUNCHED IN N.Y.: FORMER MARKET LEADER REVIVES BRAND HERITAGE

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Rheingold Extra Dry, once the best-selling beer in New York City, is being relaunched this week with a return to its roots.

Beverage Alliance, a beverage marketing company, is relaunching the brew in the Empire State with a radio and promotional campaign tied to the New York Mets.

Marketing support will be in the low millions of dollars. FerrellCalvillo, New York, handles creative while Clout Communications, Stamford, Conn., oversees media.

`DORMANT EQUITY'

"We're taking the things associated with Rheingold and bringing them back," said Mike Mitaro, president of Beverage Alliance and a former Labatt USA marketing executive. "The brand has a lot of dormant equity."

Beverage Alliance is acting on the theory that consumers are tired of trendy craft brews and want something familiar but still distinct from megabrands such as Budweiser or Miller Lite, Mr. Mitaro said.

Pricing Rheingold 50 cents more than domestic premiums, Beverage Alliance hopes to gain 1% share of the New York City area beer market in five to seven years.

Tom Pirko, president of consultancy BevMark, believes the retrobeer has a shot.

"The brand situation [in New York] is so volatile that people are always looking for something that they can recognize," Mr. Pirko said.

The Rheingold radio campaign will revive the old-time Rheingold jingle -- including a Spanish version -- that ran during the brew's heyday in the mid-1960s.

METS SPONSOR ON RADIO

In another nod toward the brand's heritage, Rheingold will be the sole domestic beer sponsor of Mets radio broadcasts and will be on sale at Shea Stadium. The brew was an official sponsor of the Mets, then an expansion team, from 1962 through 1973.

Beverage Alliance will be running Mets-related promotions, including a beach towel night and a contest in which consumers can win $1 million if they can throw three consecutive strikes from the mound at Shea.

That promotion will get TV support.

Within the next two years, Beverage Alliance may start marketing the brand in Florida because of its large population of New York transplants.

Rheingold was the best-selling beer in New York from 1962 to 1973, when it was overshadowed by the big national brands. It was bought out by C. Schmidt Brewing Co., which subsequently was acquired by G. Heileman Brewing Co. A reformulated and repackaged version of the brew was sold until Stroh Brewery Co. acquired Heileman in 1996 and discontinued the brand.

Beverage Alliance got rights to the name last year.

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