Molson Coors Canada is hoping that a beer by another name will be a sweet selling point for discerning drinkers.
The brewing giant announced on Wednesday that it is bringing its "craft" beer brand, Blue Moon, to Canada starting August 15. The wheat beer will be sold nationally at bars and restaurants, under the name Belgian Moon.
The brand, which launched in 1995, has come under criticism in the U.S. in recent years for not making its link to MillerCoors LLC known on its packaging – a tactic that some believe indicates a big brewer trying to pass off one of its products as a smaller-scale craft beer. Other brands have encountered similar skepticism, such as Shock Top, which is sold by Anheuser-Busch InBev; and the Granville Island Brewing Co. brand, which Molson purchased in 2009.
The Brewers Association, a craft industry group in the U.S., defines craft beer as having an annual production of six million barrels or less, produced by a brewery that is less than one-quarter owned or controlled by another company in the alcoholic beverage industry that is not a craft brewer. While there is no official definition, industry groups in Canada generally have similar guidelines.
Craft brewers are still far from dominating the market – giants such as Molson Coors and Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. still rake in the lion's share of sales – but smaller artisanal brands pose a very real threat to the big brewers. Craft beer is guzzling all of the growth in a segment where overall beer consumption is declining.
The beer market in Canada is worth $9.1-billion, but sales are flat, and losing out to other types of alcoholic beverages such as wine. Beer's market share in Canada fell from 50 per cent in 2003 to 43 per cent in 2013, according to Statistics Canada.
According to its most recently reported financials, Molson Coors' worldwide beer volume fell by 3.5 per cent in the three months ended March 31. Net sales in Canada fell 9.7 per cent in the same period.
The big brewers have been attempting to keep up with the appetite for new, more complex flavours. Competitor Labatt launched a "hop series" brand extension on its Alexander Keith's line in 2013, to capitalize on the trend for more hoppy, flavourful brews. Molson Coors created a new division in 2011 called Six Pints Specialty Beer Company, which was solely responsible for marketing "specialty" brands such as Creemore and Granville Island.
"Introducing this iconic brand to Canada is a significant milestone for both Molson Coors, and our drinkers, whose tastebuds continue to evolve," Six Pints general manager Will Meijer said in a statement.
Molson's announcement touted the brand as the best-selling wheat beer in the U.S., and emphasized its "aromatic citrus notes" and "creamy, inviting finish."
Not all of the big brewers' attempts to respond to the popularity of craft beers have been successful, however. Earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch faced a backlash when it ran a Super Bowl commercial that appeared to mock craft beer drinkers as snobs.
Molson sells another wheat beer in Canada that is based on the Blue Moon recipe: Rickard's White. However, according to the company, the Rickard's brand uses some different ingredients. As a result, the colour of the two beers is different, and Molson says the Rickard's variety is much sweeter than Blue Moon.