Molson Coors launches ultra-premium whiskey brand

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Dive Brief:

  • Molson Coors Beverage Company will launch its first spirit in September: a blended American whiskey called Five Trail. The 95-proof ultra-premium beverage is made in partnership with Kentucky’s Bardstown Bourbon Co., and is a blend of Colorado single-malt whiskey made with Coors malts and three bourbons, cut to proof with Rocky Mountain water.
  • Five Trail will be sold under the Coors Whiskey Co. brand banner, and distributed at upscale liquor retailers in Colorado, Georgia, Nevada and New York. It will be sold in 750-milliliter bottles with a suggested price of $59.99.
  • Molson Coors has been using diversification and premiumization as strategies to turn its sales around. The announcement of this new ultra-premium liquor comes days after the company announced it would be stopping production of 11 economy beer brands and eliminating about 100 SKUs, as CEO Gavin Hattersley announced, “Premiumization is here to stay at Molson Coors.”

Dive Insight:

In a matter of days, Molson Coors has gone from doing away with some products commonly found on the bottom shelf to an announcement that it would be taking residency on the top shelf.

But while the economy brands decision was first revealed in the company’s call with investors following its most recent earnings report, the move into spirits wasn’t even mentioned. Five Trail was unveiled in a post on Molson Coors’ company blog over the weekend.

The blog post says this launch is the next step in Molson Coors’ strategy to move beyond beer and into more premium beverages. In the post, Kimberli Fox, Molson Coors’ marketing manager for wine and spirits, says the new spirit is a true collaboration between Molson Coors’ Colorado heritage and Kentucky’s famed distillers, going deeper than an acquisition or a partnership under an existing spirit label.

Molson Coors said in the post that it began its foray into spirits with a whiskey because the spirit has had solid growth in recent decades. American whiskey sales were up 8.2% to reach $4.3 billion in 2020, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. 

The Molson Coors blog also says beer drinkers tend to have an affinity for whiskey produced by a brewery.

“While whiskey drinkers are a very loyal group, discovery is a key theme. They love to explore, expand their collections and try new things,” Fox said in the blog post. “That makes this a very interesting place for us to play as a beverage company.”

With the growing success of spirits in recent years and especially during the pandemic, this is a particularly interesting area for Molson Coors to get into. Traditional beer sales have been slowing, with beer consumption in the U.S. falling 7.5% from 2015 to 2020, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis research.

And while the storied brewer has been entering a wide array of partnerships — with up-and-coming nonalcoholic energy drink Zoa, and with Coca-Cola on Topo Chico Hard Seltzer — it has also kept its popular legacy brews at the center of its efforts. Hattersley said in the earnings call last week that Coors Light and Miller Lite helped drive the company’s top line growth in the last quarter, with Coors Light having its best half-year share trend in four years.

Using Coors’ malt and the Coors label on Five Trail will help build momentum for the spirit from the beginning. And, the blog post says, the beverage company plans to expand these offerings and eventually build a whiskey brand.

While Molson Coors has done a lot of unconventional expanding since it changed its name last year to reflect a broader range of beverages, Five Trail may be one of the easier ones to fit into its legacy portfolio and with legacy consumers. Recent innovations, like its slate of nonalcoholic beverages, Superbird premium RTD canned cocktails and Veryvell sparkling nonalcoholic CBD drinks are all squarely targeted at new consumers who are not interested in beer. Given the affinity between beer and whiskey drinkers and the Coors branding, this launch represents a more sophisticated way to enjoy a Coors. 



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