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    MillerCoors Takes Aim at A-B

    Brewer's president foresees rise of "insurgent" brands in today's economy.

    CHICAGO -- MillerCoors, SABMiller’s U.S. joint venture, is hoping to take advantage of the current economic slump with an offensive on rival Anheuser-Busch InBev, the leading brewer in the U.S.

    Tom Long, MillerCoors president and chief commercial officer, said in an interview with the Financial Times Bud and Bud Light could be "victimized" by consumers because the brands have become too used to being the default beer purchase.

    "They are big brands without a razor sharp position," Long said, adding MillerCoors could win over consumers by emphasizing how its brands differed from A-B InBev’s. "This is maybe the best time for insurgent brands in 20 years," he told the newspaper. "People are reconsidering their purchases."

    MillerCoors is aiming to take share in the mainstream light category, which is the most profitable part of the U.S. beer market, accounting for 40 percent of total U.S. beer sales. It had a 47.5 percent volume share in the premium light category in U.S. supermarket sales over the past 12 months, up 0.4 percent on the prior year, the report stated.

    The company is trying to accelerate growth of Coors Light by introducing cans with pictures of mountains that turn blue when the beer is cold and stressing its "refreshment" potential. Meanwhile, it is trying to reinvigorate interest in Miller Lite, whose sales have been in decline, by running advertising campaigns that focus on the beer’s taste.

    But analysts remain skeptical that MillerCoors—formed after SABMiller merged its U.S. operations with Molson Coors a year ago, giving it 30 percent of the U.S. market—can edge A-B InBev out of its dominant position, the Financial Times reported.

    "It’s possible but it’s a tough job," said Trevor Stirling, analyst at Bernstein Research. "Consumer preferences in terms of beer brands tend to move very, very slowly."

    Stirling added although MillerCoors appeared to be trying to "nibble at Bud Light from two directions” it would be hard to convince consumers that there was much difference between Miller Lite and Coors Light, which are priced at similar levels.

    A-B InBev’s sales volumes have been stronger than MillerCoors’ over the past six months, helped by the launch of AB InBev’s Bud Light Lime brand last year.

    Excluding Bud Light Lime, the two companies are neck and neck. Sales volume of Bud Light, A-B InBev’s biggest brand, are flat year-on-year, while Coors Light’s sales are up about 4 percent and Miller Lite’s sales are down about 7 percent, according to Bernstein.

    MillerCoors is also pushing sales of larger package sizes, such as 24- and 30-packs, according to the report.

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