In late 2011, MillerCoors LLC launched its new Keystone Light V6 brand in Puerto Rico to much fanfare. The new brew was expected to compete with other budget-priced competitors, which is critical since a tax was levied on imported beers in 2002, creating an explosion in the budget market. Behind MillerCoors’ move was A. Javier Soler, whose job as vice president and general manager for Puerto Rico and military markets is to ensure that MillerCoors brands resonate in his markets. All of his responsibilities—which span marketing, sales, and distribution—are driven by two priorities: profitably grow the MillerCoors premium light portfolio (such as Miller Lite and Coors Light) while expanding the company’s imports and crafts business, including Blue Moon, Peroni, and others. Here, Soler gives us a sip of some of the key strategies that have guided him along the way.
Assemble the Right Team
When forming a team, Soler emphasizes the importance of fresh, young talent. “Having a team that has a passion for beer, a passion for this business—that’s what drives us,” Soler says. “It’s hard to know what’s cool, so we bring people to the team who do,” he says. “They can’t define it, but they know it when they see it.”
Resonate with Target Audience
Connecting with the consumer these days, when there are so many choices available, is a challenge. To combat that, Soler says, “my team and I create a compelling, unique, and memorable story about our products at all levels, from the distributor to the consumer.”
However, hooking the Hispanic consumer isn’t always easy, Soler explains. “What could be catchy to one Hispanic could be an insult to another,” he says. The solution is to implement promotions that are relevant to specific regions, as Soler and his team have done with Coors Light. “When we go to the Northeast, we include baseball, a huge sport among Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Caribbean Hispanics,” he says. “But, when we go to the West, we do a lot of Mexican fútbol, or soccer, as it’s called in the United States.”
Emphasize Appeal of Premium Lights
Today’s customers, says Soler, are focusing on lower-priced and craft beers, making the premium light categories hard sells. “The story we have to sell—our strategy—is the power of the premium lights,” he says. “But because our premium light beers bring more returns and margins to the retailers than other choices, we try to sell that story to the retailer first and let it trickle down to the consumer.
Hire Brand Ambassadors
Blue Moon is an entry-level craft beer with a strong on-premise execution. “Making that beer an attractive choice at the point of sale by dropping an orange into it brings it to a different level, and that’s become viral,” says Soler. “Without that, the brand lacks an invitation to try it.” The challenge is execution. “How do you make the orange go in the beer at 7,000 selling points?” he asks. The answer: brand ambassadors. “We have people in each market who have a maniacal focus on execution,” Soler explains.
Coors Light has 45 percent of the market share in Puerto Rico, and defending it is a huge responsibility. “We’ve been the number-one beer in market for more than 15 years because we’ve kept the brand young and fresh,” Soler says. “To do that, we’re constantly looking into what’s relevant to the younger crowd, what makes them decide what to buy.”