Drinkers in China grab a warm one as Coors alters cold cans

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Selina Wang Beijing

Not all beer drinkers want to grab a cold one.

Molson Coors Brewing learned this in China, where it tweaked the cold-activated bottles and cans last year for Coors Light featuring images of the Rocky Mountains that turn blue when the beer is at ice-cold temperatures.

Drinking cold liquids is widely seen as undesirable in China. Warmer beverages are considered healthier for digestion, an idea that also stems from the traditional habit of boiling water to make it safer to drink.

In light of this custom, “we dropped the temperature for the thermochromatic ink, and it still turns blue, but it’s not so cold”, Peter Swinburn, the chief executive of Molson Coors, said last week.

The mountains on the cans and bottles, which turn blue at about 4ºC in the US, change colour at 5ºC to 7ºC in China.

Such attention to detail is key to Molson Coors as it pursues growth in developing markets. Rising incomes and a growing middle class are helping drive sales. In the five years to 2018, beer volume is predicted to grow 7.9 percent in India and 3.6 percent in China, according to Euromonitor International. Volume is forecast to drop in the US and the UK by 0.7 percent.

Molson Coors, which has dual headquarters in Denver and Montreal, has been expanding in developing countries over the past four years. In addition to its recognisable brands such as Coors Light and Carling, the company has a portfolio of local beers that cater to cultural palettes.

In April Royal Brew, a whisky-flavoured beer, was introduced in India, appealing to the country’s preference for hard liquor.

“We take into account local drinking habits, but brand identity will remain the same,” Krishnan Anand, the president and chief executive of Molson Coors International, said.

He pointed out that in contrast to China, people in many of the Caribbean island countries drank Coors Light at freezing temperatures.

The company has paid particular attention to China, where development began a decade ago. Sales in China had had a steady growth rate of 15 percent to 20 percent for the past eight years, Anand said.

Molson Coors’s core markets – the US, the UK, and Canada – were in decline so it was looking for faster growing markets, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones.

Colin Wheeler, a Molson Coors spokesman, said the firm’s international unit was still “in investment mode” and close to reaching profitability. International revenue – excluding Canada and the UK – surged more than eightfold in the three years to last year to $999.5 million (R10.7 billion), making up about 17 percent of its total revenue.

Rather than buying large local companies like its competitors, it seeded brands through marketing and innovation, Anand said.

“Ours is the old-fashioned way of taking our brand and building it country by country.” – Bloomberg


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