Flat beer sales bubbling up

For the past several years, sales reports were gloomy in the beer industry worldwide. In general, mass market sales were off. Wine sales, on the other hand, kept improving.

So, with the light of common sense finally shining with blinding brilliance, more beermakers began emulating winemakers' marketing tactics. Just in time, says Nick Lake, beer analyst at the ACNielsen marketing information company and VP of new business development.

The majors had "blended; became the same," he said. "If they didn't have the brand in some ads -- a Budweiser ad, a Miller Lite ad, a Coors ad -- if they didn't have the can in it, it could be any one of the three," said Lake, the company's vice president of new business development.

From fruity malt drinks to organic brews and new, splashier packaging, the marketing prohgrams for beer have grown to resemble wines more and more. And, sales are on an uptick.

A few of the innovations:

• Heineken's keg can for the refrigerator, giving consumers draft beer at home.

• Coors' cooler box with 18-ounce plastic bottles that is ready to be filled with ice and taken on the road.

• Budweiser's sturdy aluminum bottles that are like a cross between a can and a glass bottle. (A number of other companies offer the same container.)

• As I've noted in earlier postings, some of the majors such as Anheuser-Busch have signed deals with foreign brewers to act as their U.S. distribution agents.

• New products from the majors include Anheuser-Busch's Stone Mill Pale Ale and Wild Hop Lager, both certified organic. Peels malt beverage is made with all-natural fruit. A-B's Tilt and B-to-the-E have sweet flavors, caffeine, ginseng and guarana, a Brazilian stimulant.

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