Limited Releases Go Mainstream

Major brewers and importers get in on a craft trend.

Mainstream brewers like Budwieser are releasing such limited-edition beers as Reserve Copper lager (pictured), which is aged with Jim Beam Bourbon barrel staves and celebrates the 85th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal.
Mainstream brewers like Budwieser are releasing such limited-edition beers as Reserve Copper lager (pictured), which is aged with Jim Beam Bourbon barrel staves and celebrates the 85th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal.

Limited-release beers and packages are selling briskly at the two-unit Calandro’s supermarket in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But it’s no longer just about craft beers, says beer and liquor department manager Taylor Calandro. Limited releases from major domestic brewers and importers are also an attraction.

Larger players are now offering new and retro beers for limited times only, along with short-term packaging innovations designed to turn heads in the beer aisle. MillerCoors has reprised the 1990s Zima flavored malt beverage brand for the last two summers, and the response has been positive. Originally launched in 1993, Zima was discontinued in 2008. Although Zima’s relaunches have been focused on the off-premise, on-premise accounts also embraced this ’90s throwback.

Budweiser has also been offering limited releases under its Reserve Collection banner for the last year and a half. Budweiser Reserve Copper lager, aged with Jim Beam Bourbon barrel staves, was released late last year to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. It marked the third entry in the collection, and is being supported by a marketing campaign that includes a commercial with actress Charlize Theron. Other launches in the Reserve Collection included last year’s Budweiser Freedom Reserve red lager and the Budweiser 1933 Repeal Reserve amber lager, unveiled in 2017.

Late last year, targeting holiday revelers, MillerCoors released Miller High Life in 750-ml. bottles nationwide, with a suggested retail price of $4. Previously, the special edition was only available in Chicago and Milwaukee. Jon Ehrlich, owner of Jackbar in Brooklyn, New York, says the special year-end High Life package sold well. “People love it—MillerCoors should have come out with the package earlier,” he says. To drive sales, Jackbar presented the bottle in a chilled wine bucket, along with two branded Champagne glasses, for $14. At press time, MillerCoors hadn’t announced whether the bottle would return this year.

In recent years, Heineken USA has introduced limited-edition packaging that included aluminum bottles that highlighted cities (pictured), as well as a holiday release of a 1.5-liter magnum of Heineken.
In recent years, Heineken USA has introduced limited-edition packaging that included aluminum bottles that highlighted cities (pictured), as well as a holiday release of a 1.5-liter magnum of Heineken.

Heineken USA has also released limited-time-only packaging innovations in recent years, including a 1.5-liter magnum of Heineken for the holidays. “We’ve had fantastic feedback from retailers,” says Heineken brand manager Ashleigh Phelps. Other limited-edition packaging efforts for Heineken have included 11.2-ounce aluminum bottles that highlighted several cities, released in 2017, as well as the summer 2018 release of the CoolerPack, an 18-pack cardboard cooler. Dos Equis, another Heineken USA import, was promoted last year with special-edition, matte-finished 24-ounce cans, featuring the same surface feel as a real football. The move commemorated the Mexican brand being named as the official beer sponsor of the College Football Playoff National Championship. Both the CoolerPack and Dos Equis football can will return this year, according to Heineken USA.

While retailers applaud these efforts to stimulate sales of mainstream beers at a time when consumers are demanding the newest and hottest craft brews, they also recognize the challenges. “Fresh new things from small producers are what’s selling in beer today,” says Calandro, adding that size can sometimes be a disadvantage to larger brewers when it comes to introducing limited-time brews. “It’s harder for them to execute on a small scale. Smaller brewers more easily have the capability to put a product on the market for a limited time, given their narrower marketing territories.”

Still, limited-release brews and packages like Budweiser Reserve Copper lager ($9 a 6-pack of 12-ounce bottles), Miller High Life in 750-ml. bottles ($4), and Zima ($9) perform well at Calandro’s. The retailer says that if brands like Zima return to the market this year, his store will offer them once more. “I’ll stock anything that sells,” he says.