The Molson Coors Ireland office in Maynooth is a quiet bustle mid-morning as we pace past the various brand desks in search of an empty room in which to talk.
Since joining the company in June 2013 Robert Blythe, Molson Coors Ireland’s Marketing Director, has had one focus: opportunities for growth.
“The whole job has been about prioritising and developing an acute understanding of where the key opportunities for growth lie in a mature market where consumer habits are very much ingrained,” he tells me as we settle down to discuss the company’s on-trade strategy.
“When I joined, we were integrating the purchase of Sharps Brewery in Cornwall,” he remembers, “One of the biggest fears at the time was that we’d close it and just brew Doom Beer at Burton-on-Trent.”
But no – instead, £20 million was invested in the Cornwall brewery to expand operations while Burton-on-Trent continued brewing Carling, Coors Light (for the UK/NI market), Cobra and Molson Canadian.
Spotting the opportunities
Lo, another departmental re-organisation has just taken place to develop three “functional streams”: Strategic Marketing, Customer Marketing and Category Management/Consumer Insight.
“We’re voraciously ambitious in this market and will grow it by spotting valuable and relevant opportunities and helping our customers partake in those opportunities,” says Robert, “Everything that we’re going to do is based on consumer insight and market strategy. To that end the company is continuously engaged in qualitative research and outlet trials.
“Thus we can clearly develop category opportunities to bring to our customers and demonstrate the benefits of the areas of the market that we’re playing in and how, with the right focus, they can be grown to mutual benefit.
“Our success will be based on the fact that consumers want variety so we must stay on the front foot with our beers, anticipating how consumers seek out new beers and delivering brilliantly against this,” he believes, “Brands are about experiences and we need to have not only the right brand but the right overall consumer experience.”
At present Molson Coors Ireland enjoys a beer market share of around 7%. Carling has 5% of the lager market but in the on-trade it’s the top value lager with a share of 25% of the value segment, claims Robert.
This ‘value’ proposition now accounts for 20% of the beer market overall and will continue growing in the on-trade, he believes, “The key on-trade value brands are all growing. Carling’s growing at over 50% year-on-year”.
There’s a dichotomy here in that Molson Coors is driving “core standard” lager while also driving world and craft beers.
“Consumers’ perceptions of what value means to them has changed drastically in the last 10 years and people are looking for savings on some brands so that they can spend on others.”
80% of the market used sit in the middle or mainstream but now he believes that figure is closer to 69% and moving towards 60% by 2017.
“The consumer might go out mid-week, watch the match with Carling and enjoy craft beers on a Friday night; out with their partner, consumers might prefer a world beer. It’s simply an appraisal of value in context for the occasion.”
Carling – the opportunity
“The growth and trajectory of Carling is what we focus on since it’s the Number Five brand in the on-trade at present,” he says.
Carling will see a huge amount of activity this year. Its new campaign, for example, has the theme ‘Mates/moments’.
One of its key pieces of alignment in the UK and Ireland focuses on the Bank Holiday, representing an opportunity for consumers to win a weekend in LA with Frank Vincent of Sopranos fame. Consumers can enter in-outlet so the promotion helps drive visibilitiy in-outlet.
This integrated on-trade Through-The-Line campaign begins next month with the winners heading off to Vegas for the June Bank Holiday.
An on-pack promotion runs in the off-trade this Summer and another on-trade promotion will be launched towards the end of the Summer.
Molson Canadian – the opportunity
Molson Canadian was launched here in 2013 but after initial demand, the brand tended to take a sales backseat.
Robert explains what had happened: “When the novelty factor wore out, we needed to get people to continue asking for it, to get consumer pull-through because when dealing with the mainstream market – which is 70% of the total beer market – consumers are very engrained in their habits and getting them to drink new beers is difficult.
“We had to understand how to make Canadian relevant to this consumer demographic which was represented by the mid- to late-20s consumer looking for something a bit different.”
That word bit is important.
Robert elaborates: “We’d had a strong ad campaign for Canadian throughout the Summer of 2014 and in doing so we feel we’ve arrived at a very potent insight: while some consumers hunger for new experiences, not everyone’s tastes expand to premium or craft beers”.
“In Molson Canadian, we’ve liquid that’s absolutely capable of competing in that area and a brand that offers a real alternative opportunity to consumers, particularly outside the main cities where the brand selection is a lot less – our biggest sales opportunity lies outside the main cities – a key learning for us.”
Franciscan Well – the opportunity
Rebel Red and Chieftan IPA are the top and second-top craft beers in the on-trade here right now and the company has also started exporting Franciscan Well product to the UK.
“Rebel Red is a key beer for us here,” says Robert, “We really led-out with that brand and put investment behind the collateral for that in terms of glasses and fonts.
“We also have a very exciting brand developing with Chieftan IPA. It appeals to Millennials and mid-20s consumers where sweetness is a strong driver and as you don’t get the bitter kick from the hops, it’s who we’re targeting.
“The experience of craft beers in the on-trade is something we’re going to talk to our customers about – what’s right for them; so we’ll be able to assess the type of pub and what that pub’s customers want in regard to craft beer. In consultation with the publican we’ll be able to demonstrate the value of the craft beer portfolio and help to advise on the most appropriate beer selection for that outlet – this may include beers from outside our portfolio, but we’re happy to do this on the basis that it makes craft beer more accessible to all consumers.”
He’s confident too that as the category gets bigger, the good beers will rise to the top, Franciscan Well’s among them!