- Molson Coors Brewing is testing La Colombe cold brew with the addition of an alcoholic malt in Denver, Boston and Tampa/Fort Myers in Florida. The results will determine whether the product is sold in other cities in 2020, according to the Denver Business Journal.
- The hard coffee has 4.2% alcohol by volume, which is less than the average light beer, and comes in black and vanilla. This beverage, a partnership between the Philadelphia-based La Colombe and Molson Coors, hit the market in early September.
- “What consumers are telling us right now is it’s a drink for all occasions. We see them drinking this right before dinner or right before going to a party,” Janice Wisniewski, Molson Coors’ associate marketing manager for innovations, told the business publication. “We wanted to grow beyond beer, and this is one more innovation that gets us beyond beer.”
For years, Molson Coors has faced declining demand for its iconic brews such as Coors Light and Miller Lite as more consumers gravitate toward craft options, Mexican imports, wine and spirits. People also are embracing new drink categories such as hard seltzers, coffees and ciders.
Cold brew is a wildly popular coffee option even if the category is very small. Statista reported sales of cold brew coffee are on the upswing, with a jump from about $8.5 million in 2015 to $38 million in 2017. But that is only a portion of a booming coffee market. Per-capita coffee consumption continues to increase. An industry survey from 2018 found 64% of American adults drink a cup of coffee each day — up 2% from 2017 and the highest level since 2012. As people look to drink more coffee while seeking out new ways to consume alcohol, it only makes sense that companies like Molson Coors would enter the category — especially as they look to offset declining sales in their core beer division.
However, Molson Coors is not the first to test out this combination. Several smaller breweries have been manufacturing similar products for years while bigger names recently have entered the segment. This past July, Pabst Blue Ribbon released its own fermented coffee and barley beverage and Jägermeister recently announced a 33% alcohol by volume cold brew coffee liqueur.
Although a later entrant into the category, Molson Coors is working to avoid being a copycat. The partnership plays to Molson Coors’ advantage because La Colombe is a name brand known for gourmet coffee. Perhaps that is why the cold brew itself features just alcohol and coffee – with vanilla extract for the flavored option – in order to highlight the quality of the two primary ingredients. Most other hard coffees feature a cream or milk component.
Molson Coors executives have been aggressively repositioning the company to account for the drop in beer sales in the U.S., which makes up the majority of its market. CEO Gavin Hattersley took over from Mark Hunter in September and in two months cut 500 jobs, streamlined its corporate structure, pushed further beyond beer through an investment in L.A. Libations and announced a name change to Molson Coors Beverage.
Although the company as a whole is moving quickly, Molson Coors is taking things cautiously with its latest product partnership by testing it out first in only a few markets. Hard coffee is a small portion of the overall alcohol segment and has yet to show evidence of the explosive popularity of hard seltzer.
Still, the idea shows promise. PBR Hard Coffee has been successful in Maine so far. The Portland Press Herald reported that stores in the state are having trouble keeping the beverage in stock. By treading carefully, Molson Coors could determine whether it's worth investing more money or make changes first to the product before rolling it out to additional markets.
The brewer could have partnered with La Colombe to create a non-alcoholic cold brew much like the coffee line Kraft Heinz is working on with Diageo's Baileys. However, by choosing to pursue an alcoholic refreshment, Molson Coors is remaining loyal to its roots while pursuing creative ventures that will hopefully spark the interest of younger consumers.