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The new-product problem seems to extend into the alcoholic beverage market. When it comes to beer developments, the approach seems to be: Take an idea from another country and run it up the U.S. flagpole.

Japan, for example. Dry beers, brewed longer and supposedly smoother tasting, were a big hit in Japan, so here they came. The dry brews the U.S. marketers came up with were watered down a bit, to keep the alcohol content in line (in the longer brewing process, more sugar is converted to alcohol), and heavily advertised. That produced a good amount of trial purchasing.

But now that dry beers have gone flat, let's look north, to Canada. Ah, yes: Ice beers, produced by turning the temperature down and taking the brew down to slurry before brewing is completed. Again, smoother. Little more alcohol (retained this time, mostly).

With only minimum testing of consumer interest, the major U.S. brewers are shipping the me-too entries out-determined not to have to play catch-up if the category catches on, as was the case with Miller Genuine Draft and, longer ago, Lite beer from Miller. So here they come, a half-dozen or more, even as a good portion of the nation struggles with ice of a different sort on its streets and sidewalks.

Said one marketing executive: "Our biggest concern is that it's the beer of the month or the year." We share this concern. It indeed has been a long time since Lite really lit up the U.S. brewing industry.

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