State of the Coors brand: Craft brewers lead the market sector Coors once invented

By Bart Taylor | May 27, 2014

It’s been decades since Coors was Colorado’s most influential beer brand, but coattails from earlier times are long. Last week IndustryWeek published an infographic entitled the ‘Corporate States of America’, depicting each state’s ‘archetypal’ business brand, and Coors was picked as the brand that ‘best represented’ the state. Over half were manufacturers.

If beer drinkers here were asked the same question Coors might be hard-pressed to crack the top 10 - in its own category. The company might fare better with the general business community. But Colorado’s craft brewing artisans and entrepreneurs are now the face of the region’s beer sector. Among them, the Ft. Collins craft giants New Belgium and O’Dell are arguably among the most important new U.S. brands in the past 25 years. Collectively the sector helped energize a national maker movement. They’re a global business phenomenon.

What then qualifies a brand to be highly influential, to best represent a state or region? The random criteria used to select Coors was “a brand that a) has ties to that state and b) is still in business (as of 2013).”

Craft brewers and other innovators like those in Colorado’s high flying natural food sector would likely agree that the attributes of a successful brand would be more exacting, like: a meaningful connection to ‘place’, where lifestyle or community provide inspiration and foundation for company culture (read today’s Madhava profile); a commitment to sourcing locally when possible - workforce, raw materials, IP; an embrace of technology and other disruptive processes that drive innovation; and openness to share, to support others even competitors where possible; and of course providing a customer experience that reinforces all of the above.

Does Coors meet the standards? Yes. The company is a major consumer of regional ag products - they source locally. Certainly there’s a profound connection to place; the Coors family legacy remains powerful here.

But from a corporate standpoint, it now co-exists beside John Molson’s even richer Canadian beer dynasty: the MolsonCoors site points to seven generations of Molson’s compared to Coors’ five. Coors maintains the largest single beer making operation in the U.S. in Golden, but its connection to the region now filters through Toronto, first, Chicago and Europe.

For consumers, the upstart crafters have fully wrested the mantle of innovation and inspiration not only from Coors but from other mega-producers in the sector. And while the craft sector still commands a small percent of the overall market, between 10 and 15 percent, it would be hard to find any informed observer to bet against a projection one craft executive made to me, that 20-25 percent of the market is now a reasonable forecast in the coming years.

Ten years ago Pete Coors graciously agreed to an interview after losing his Senate bid to Ken Salazar. It was a highlight for me. He was honest and introspective. I remember asking if he had any regrets. Only one, he said, that he wished he’d run his own race. I assume he meant that his campaign towed national GOP talking points and that leaning on his long-standing connection with the community and locally-inspired wisdom would have served him better.

It’s a lesson the Coors Brewing Company might do well to revisit. Is a divestiture with Molson and Miller possible? Nah, but it would be fascinating to watch Coors reinvent itself as a local company, inspired by place and built from the ground up with community and innovation at the heart of its brand effort.

Once, it did.