William K. Coors

Last month, William K. Coors died at the age of 102.He was the grandson of Adolph Coors, founder of Coors Brewing. Here is the New York Times obituary.

In acknowledgement of his passing, I am posting an excerpt from Brewing Battles (2007)about Coors.

Until the late 1970s Coors was a regional brewer; the beer was available in sixteen Western states. The Coors family sought nation-wide distribution of their beer, but faced several problems. Their appeal and brand recognition flowed from the Rocky Mountain springs that supplied the water for the beer. Building another brewery somewhere else would negate those advertising claims. Coors planned to compete in both beer types and advertising. By 1979, the company had a light beer and hoped to produce a super premium beer in the near future.[1]

Coors’ plans to diversify its products reflected the changing nature of the beer market since Repeal. Nineteenth century brewers brewed fresh lager for patrons at saloons. A few brewers persisted in brewing English ale. Although the German brewers had argued for the uniqueness of their product when confronting federal taxes in the 1860s, for much of their pre-Prohibition history they presented and promoted beer as beer. Most brewers had only a few different products and they didn’t really advertise one over the other.

During Repeal, brewers returned to a world of consumer products and brands. Slowly they began to develop different beers. Modern Brewery Age was a leader in promoting product differentiation, advertising, and marketing campaigns around specific items. Of course the brewers pushed for great latitude in production definition when producing the industry’s NRA code. They continued to resist ingredient and alcoholic content labeling.

True product differentiation began in the 1960s with malt liquor; it accelerated after Miller and Phillip Morris introduced light beer in 1975. Other categories of beer included super premium, dry, reduced alcohol, non-alcoholic, and beer coolers.[2] Anheuser–Busch has over sixty beers including Michelob, its super premium entry which the company has produced since 1896, as well as O’Douls, a non-alcoholic beer, and Bud Light.[3] Most other breweries do not have that many products; craft brewers usually have a few different beers. Boston Beer, makers of Sam Adams, produces about twenty-five different products.[4]

Coors was obviously hoping to move onto the national level and begin producing a variety of beers. The company developed a plan to move into two or three new states a year. By 1986 people in forty-five different states could buy Coors beer. The company maintained its number five position in the industry through massive advertising expenditures. Coors spent more than $10 a barrel on advertising and its total marketing expenses were $165 million in 1985. The company’s net income was $53.4 million from sales of $1.28 billion.[5]

By 1986 the fourth generation of Coors family members was running the company. Jeff Coors stated that the brewing industry “was much more of a marketing game today.” Beyond problems of market expansion, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the company faced a series of controversies. In 1977, Local 366 of the Colorado UBW began a strike against Coors. Coors, under the leadership of Bill Coors, consistently supported conservative causes; the company attempted to change the seniority system which would have resulted in a less powerful role for the local and its influence on discipline. Claiming union busting the local was on strike for two weeks when half of the workers returned to work. The company hired replacement workers for the remaining strikers. Coors wanted an open shop despite the fact that the brewery had had union representation for forty-two years. In 1978 employees decertified the union.

The union and other interested parties including Hispanics, homosexual rights activists, and feminists undertook a national boycott. Many groups believed Coors engaged in discriminatory labor practices. By initiating a boycott the UBW was returning to its nineteenth century roots. This boycott caused California sales to diminish by fifteen percent; California represented more than forty-five percent of Coors market. The boycott was a large impediment to the company’s attempts to produce beer and market beer for the national market.[6]

Ten years later, in 1987, the union and Coors came to an understanding. Coors agreed to non-interference with union organizing and to support a union contract for a proposed building project. In response the union ended the boycott. Coors changed its hiring practices and advertising focus. Coors had also completed an agreement with the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations in 1984. Jeff Coors was determined to avoid controversy.[7]

By 1991, all fifty states sold Coors beer, and the company had risen to the number three spot in the industry. It has the largest capacity brewery in the world at its headquarters in Golden, Colorado. That same year Anheuser–Busch’s market share was forty-four percent.[8]

 

[1] Jerry Knight, “Coors Plans Expansion,” Washington Post, 79.

[2] Beatrice Trum Hunter, “More Informative Beer Labels,” Consumer Research Magazine, October 1996, vol. 79, no. 10, 10-15.

[3] http://anheuser-busch.com/ (accessed April 2, 2007).

[4] http://samueladams.com/verification/ (accessed April2, 2007).

[5] Steven Greenhouse,” Coors Boys Stick to Business,” New York Times, November 30, 1986, 162. The family had suffered a tragedy in 1960 with the kidnapping and murder of Adolph Coors the third, eldest grandson of Adolph Coors, the company’s founder.

[6] Ibid; Amy Mittelman, “Labor in the U.S. Liquor Industry” in Blocker et al., Encyclopedia, 356-358.

[7] Ibid; Ruth Hamel and Tom Schreiner, “Coors Courts Hispanics,” American Demographic, November 1988, 54.

[8] William H. Mulligan, Jr. “Coors,” in Blocker, et. al., Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 174; Rick Desloge, “Anheuser-Busch on path to 50 percent share of market,” St. Louis Business Journal, February 11, 1991 1B.-2B.

©Amy Mittelman 2018.