Yesterday, Tom Long, the CEO of MillerCoors, talked to the Wall Street Journal about some of the obstacles his company faces in the coming years. With liquor, wine, and craft beer exploding, Big Beer has seen its overall sales stagnate. Long, who spent nearly two decades at Coca-Cola before jumping to Miller, is trying to right a leaky ship that continues losing market share to both craft beer AND arch-rival, Anheuser-Busch InBev. As the WSJ notes, MillerCoors has stayed in the black in these tough times thanks to cost-cutting measures and price increases, but that’s not exactly a long-term strategy for success. Long lets readers in on some new MillerCoors strategies in the interview. Since the man is a consummate corporate shill, we’ve decided to translate his responses for you from bullshit into truth. Enjoy!
WSJ: Of your two big brands, Coors is doing well and Miller poorly. Why is that?
Mr. Long: Coors has benefited the most from the combined distribution of the new company as the smaller of the two. There were much bigger distribution gaps in Coors. Miller Lite is a little bit victimized by our significant success in Coors Light, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got a job to do on Miller Lite.
WSJ: How do you get Miller to grow again?
Mr. Long: We’re going to our distributors in March with new advertising, new packaging and to the extent we tweak the [brand] positioning, we’ll show that as well.
There’s a new Miller Lite can coming out in the late spring. It’s a taste-flow can that allows consumers to put a second opening in the can and the smooth flow rate increases dramatically. Young people really like it.
Translation: We won’t even consider trying to make a good product. Rather, we’re going to continue to fuck around with the packaging. It’s like when a golfer sucks and blames his clubs. The biggest issue we face is that our consumers can still “taste” our product. We tried to fix that with the Vortex Bottle, but it still wasn’t getting our shitty beer past consumers’ taste buds fast enough. Enter the “Taste-Flow” can. As you can tell from the description, our Marketing gurus went to a frat party, saw some dudes shotgunning a beer, and decided to incorporate that concept into our packaging. Now you don’t need a screwdriver or can-opener to shotgun a Miller Lite. We’re adding it right into the can! Young people (eg: 14-year-olds), really like it.
WSJ: The marketing pitch for Miller Lite has long focused on taste. Are you still comfortable with that?
Mr. Long: It certainly needs to be tweaked. To be credible you have to frame [the marketing] in the context of light beer. In the light arena, it would be pretty easy to say taste is more important than ever because the craft explosion has waked the taste buds of drinkers.
Translation: Umm…no. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m the CEO of MillerCoors and even I’m embarrassed by our hilariously misleading focus on “taste”. In future ads, we’ll try to remind people that our beer really DOES taste great…but only in relation to Natty Light, Milwaukee’s Best, and hobo diarrhea.
WSJ: Is retail display one of the challenges for the MillerCoors joint venture, with Coors and Miller being forced to share space?
Mr. Long: We’re working to reverse it simply because we sell a lot more and retailers sell a lot more when we keep them separate. Sameness kills value in all marketing. What [we] want to do is create separateness and give those brands bigger, clearer identities.
Translation: Consumers don’t give a flying fuck about light beer brands. They just grab whichever one is closest to the jerky. But the new marketing strategies will fix that. If you want a beer that’s so cold it will burn your esophagus, buy Coors Light. If you want a beer you can shotgun without any additional hardware, grab a Miller Lite.
WSJ: Why has beer been losing ground to wine and spirits?
Mr. Long: The [millennials] drink different products for different occasions. It used to be in our father’s generation, a scotch drinker was a scotch drinker and a beer drinker was a beer drinker.
You’ve also got some changes in drinking patterns, for instance the decline in carbonated soft drinks. Still drinks are more important and that’s why we see a rise in the consumption of ales in the U.S., because ales are less carbonated.
Translation: I don’t even know what “ale” means. I’m the CEO of the second largest brewer in the world and apparently I think that ales are uncarbonated “still drinks”. I also apparently think that the decline of carbonated soft drinks is because people hate bubbles…not because obesity and diabetes are on the rise everywhere. Sigh…I wish people were still like our fathers: Racist, abusive drunks that drank Scotch for breakfast, lunch and dinner because dammit, they were Scotch drinkers!
WSJ: Small craft beers also have been taking share from Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. What’s your strategy with respect to craft?
Mr. Long: We’re a big player in craft. The single-biggest brand in craft is Blue Moon, which is ours. The fourth-biggest brand in craft is [our brand] Leinenkugel’s. At [craft business unit] Tenth and Blake, the plan is to grow about 60% over the next three years.
If we can play really hard in the fastest sector right now, which is craft, which we are doing, and we can do well with Miller Lite, Coors Light and Miller 64, then our company will do quite well.
Translation: Watch yourself craft…we’re coming for you, and we’re coming hard. We’re getting absolutely spanked by small breweries right now, so we’re planning on making up all of that lost revenue by completely fucking over the craft industry. Also, I like that I can use the word “craft” to mean whatever I want it to mean. Who cares if Blue Moon was always a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coors? I say it’s “craft”, and therefore it is. I am Tom Long! Kneel before me, peasants!
WSJ: You recently bought a minority stake in Terrapin, a small brewery in Georgia. Besides money, what can you offer small brewers? Are you going to buy more of them?
Mr. Long: We can help them get distribution faster. We bring an enormous amount of assets in brewing processes, technology, procurement and back office that small companies don’t have.
We’re in dialogue with lots of companies. Those things have to work just right for them and have to be comfortable for everyone.
Translation: I just told you that we plan on growing our “craft” segment by 60% over the next three years. So yes…we’re buying the shit out of more small breweries and we’re milking them for every last penny. Hop on board the Tenth and Blake wagon, craft brewers! We may run over some folks along the way, but we’ll be rich I tells ya!
WSJ: Four of the five biggest-selling beers in the U.S. are light. Can light beers remain the biggest as more consumers experiment?
Mr. Long: That’s like saying, ‘Do you think sugar-free soft drinks will be relevant going forward?’ We don’t have any evidence to suggest people don’t still care a great deal about calories and carbs.
Translation: We also don’t have any evidence to suggest that people care about “flavor” or “craftsmanship”. We don’t do market research is what I’m saying.
WSJ: Do you think beer industry volumes will grow again in 2012?
Mr. Long: We think we’ve got more headwinds in beer on a volume basis than we do tailwinds and we see the industry down 1% to 2% in 2012. But our expectation is that [MillerCoors] will take share.
Translation: I’m going to use a “flying” analogy because I spend most of my time in a private jet. I would say that the beer industry is in an upright and locked position today and that you are now free to move about the cabin. Also, we’re going to keep getting our asses handed to us by liquor, wine, and craft beer…but don’t worry because we’re going to buy up half the craft beer industry over the next few years. Triple hops brewed! Man up! Long out.