Celebrity chef Rick Bayless is adding some suds to his Mexican food empire.
The Chicago restaurateur and PBS cooking-show star will partner with the nation's largest beer importer to create a craft beer that will hit stores next year. The planned brew is part of a significant new deal that Mr. Bayless has struck with Crown Imports, which distributes Corona and other Mexican beer brands in the U.S.
Chicago-based Crown's plans include sponsoring Mr. Bayless's "Mexico One Plate at Time" TV show, which will feature ads for Negra Modelo. The spots by GSD&M will plug the brew with food, capitalizing on the beer category's growing gourmet appeal. The brew will also appear in store promotions with Mr. Bayless's Frontera-branded lineup of salsas, grilling sauces and organic chips.
The craft beer is in its early stages of development. It will be owned by Crown, which initially plans to distribute it regionally, although the footprint could grow. The brand is still nameless and the style has not been determined. But it seems all-but-certain that Mr. Bayless will give it a south-of-the-border feel. "We are going to use Rick and all his expertise with Latin flavors and Mexican flavors and spice. He's very into beer," Crown Chief Marketing Officer Jim Sabia told Ad Age. "We will have our own brewers, but he is going to be actively involved in the recipe and style. He's going to be our master brewer."
While this represents Mr. Bayless's biggest foray into booze, he is not a rookie. A few years ago he collaborated with Goose Island Beer Co. on a beer called Marisol that is still served in his Frontera Grill restaurant in Chicago.
The Crown partnership comes as the importer resets its ambitions and prepares to operate within a new ownership structure set in motion by Anheuser-Busch InBev's planned acquisition of Mexican-based Grupo Modelo. As part of the deal, Grupo Modelo, which brews Corona, intends to sell its 50% stake in Crown Imports -- which imports Corona in the U.S. -- to Constellation Brands, Crown's other owner.
In response to anti-trust concerns, the deal was recently revised to give Constellation further independence from A-B InBev, including ownership of a Mexican brewery. Constellation also has "the freedom to develop brand extensions and innovations for the U.S. market," Constellation CEO Robert Sands said on a recent call with analysts. Constellation, which markets wine, beer and spirits, will become "the third largest total-beverage alcohol company in the U.S.," he noted, assuming the final deal gets approval from regulators.
The upshot for Crown, which will essentially become Constellation's beer division, is a newfound freedom and agility that comes from having one owner, rather than two. "We can make any other beer brand we want in America," Mr. Sabia said. "We're now a brewer."
The importer has already gotten more aggressive, unleashing line extensions for the fast-rising Modelo Especial brand, including Modelo Light, which is being test-marketed in Fresno, Calif.
Here is a quick look at Crown's 2013 marketing plans, which were recently unveiled to distributors:
Corona Extra: The importer's flagship brew will continue its "Find Your Beach" campaign under agency Cramer-Krasselt, including ads featuring NFL broadcaster Jon Gruden.
Corona Light: The brand last year began a new campaign under Goody Silverstein & Partners that seeks to differentiate it from brown-bottled domestics. This year the agency has taken it further with "Ditch the Heard," which features a talking sheep.
Modelo Especial: Modelo, the nation's third-largest import, continues to try to widen its appeal beyond its core of Hispanic drinkers with a general-market campaign by Goodby that will air in six markets, up from two last year.
Pacifico: Crown is putting more resources behind this brand with spots playing up the brew's appeal to surfers and outdoor adventure-seekers. TV ads by agency GSD&M will run in California. Mr. Sabia said the marketer will evaluate growing the campaign footprint for next year.