Molson Coors, the UK’s second biggest brewer, recently announced Gareth Cooke as its Grocery Director as it looks to secure its ambition to be the First Choice for consumers and customers in the grocery sector. Gareth has 13 years’ sales and strategy experience at senior level, having worked at Danone and most recently PepsiCo. The Grocery Trader caught up with Gareth Cooke and asked him about his new role, Molson Coors’ ambitions for the UK beer and cider market and where the rise of craft beer comes into the picture.

Gareth Cooke, Molson Coors

“In this job,” says Gareth, “I’m responsible for delivering an off-trade strategy that drives value for all our grocery customers by equipping them with a profitable mix of products and ensuring their businesses are wellpositioned to meet consumers’ changing consumption behaviour. It’s a sustained mission, rather than a short term objective.”

Gareth only started his current role in July this year, so in his words he is still learning the ropes a little when it comes to talking to supermarkets, Co-ops and c-store chains, but he believes meeting with customers directly – and regularly – is the best way to ensure Molson Coors is able to guide them through an increasingly competitive and changing market.

Gareth certainly has the resources behind him to get the results. Molson Coors’ commercial team is 14 strong, split across three business units within Grocery: “The team more than doubles when you include our wider support functions across category management, supply chain and finance.”

The brands Gareth has to work with are pretty strong, too. Molson Coors currently has a market share of around 20% of the UK beer market and a portfolio that includes Carling, the UK’s best-selling lager for three decades, Coors Light, Cobra, Grolsch, Doom Bar, Worthington’s, Caffrey’s, Singha and a range of speciality beers, as well as Aspall Cyder.

Gareth says sales growing across a number of these brands, primarily driven by changing consumer trends: “The most notable increases we’re seeing come from our premium ranges of beer and cider, low and no-alcohol products, craft and world beer brands.

Rather than setting specific goals, our ambition to be the ‘First Choice for Consumers and Customers’ is an ongoing ambition, which we make a significant investment in the quality and breadth of our portfolio to meet.”

Let’s make this special Gareth Cooke says the premium beer category is coming into its own at this time of year, with Christmas approaching, and Molson Coors are well placed to help retailers capture the seasonal opportunity:

“We have a range of speciality beers which appeal to a broad range of customers. From Blue Moon to Cobra to Doom Bar’s Amber Ale, there’s something for everyone. Christmas is our busiest trading period, and the time when consumers are most likely to diversify what they drink and to try speciality beer.”

Staying with speciality beer, Gareth says the craft beer revival has impacted on the UK beer market, starting in the on trade and spilling over into take home:

“The craft beer revival has continued to impact on mainstream beer sales, as consumers seek the rich variety of choice and flavours that craft beer can offer. As a result, craft beer has almost doubled over the last two years and retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury’s are increasing space for the product.”

Molson Coors is a large-scale organisation, but that doesn’t prevent Molson Coors from being able to cater for a broad spread of tastes. Gareth explains:

“It is crucial for brewers like us to provide a diverse range and flavours that reflects widening preferences and meets the demands of supermarkets.

At Molson Coors, we believe our extensive portfolio provides our consumers and customers with the variety and choice that they want and need – which is why we launched our Emerging Markets & Craft Beer division. Brands such as Franciscan Well Brewery are central to our plans to build a strong share in the burgeoning craft beer market.”

Gareth says take-home beer consumption has largely aligned with the trends Molson Coors are seeing in the on and off trade, with volume sales of mainstream beer falling and giving way to increased demand for craft and low and no-alcohol SKUs:

“The market is adapting to these changes and we are looking to further develop our craft and low-alcohol products to meet changing consumer preferences.”

The ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaign has had an effect on UK consumer buying behaviour, Gareth continues, but wellness and health are also becoming increasingly important motivators to purchase in their own right:

“Because of this change, we have seen sales of low and no alcohol drinks increase – in July there were reports that the category had grown by 32 per cent year on year. Hence Molson Coors is increasing the number of low and no alcohol products in its portfolio – for example, late last year, we introduced Rekorderlig Low Alcohol to our UK & Ireland portfolio, joining Cobra Zero and Bavaria 0.0 per cent.”

Gareth joins Molson Coors as the multiple grocery industry goes through structural changes in terms of consolidation of ownership, and welcomes the opportunities this brings:

“With this change in the market, we will continue to work closely with all our customers to ensure they have an optimum product range, supported by the right knowledge and expertise. At Molson Coors, we are committed to be the first choice for customers and consumers, as we work hard to ensure that our loyal shoppers have access to the products that they want at all times.”

Gareth and colleagues acknowledge that the exceptionally cold winter and long hot summer have had their effect on beer, lager and cider sales and demand:

“Britain enjoyed a glorious summer in which the World Cup and hot weather caused demand for our products to increase. To put this into figures, off-trade alcohol sales were up by 7.4%, with beer and cider being the biggest drivers of that growth during the summer period.”

The other impact on beer supply this year was the CO2 shortage, but Gareth says Molson Coors were unaffected: “As a company we invest heavily in technology such as a CO2 recovery system at our largest brewery, so we were unaffected. We’re committed to ensuring that everyone from our farmers to our customers can carry on business-as-usual.”

Weather extremes and CO2 shortages apart, but Gareth thinks the growth of online shopping is one of the biggest challenges the UK multiple grocery industry faces:

“The grocery industry has faced a fundamental change in the last few years, as consumers increasingly look online for their weekly shop. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for customers. We have developed our 60 Second Shop to identify these opportunities and support our customers and help them maximise each store visit. Designed to make shoppers lives easier, 60 Second Shop can give shoppers more ideas, more choice, more reasons to pop in store.”

Molson Coors’ 60 Second Shop initiative details three pillars a retailer should follow to best deliver against the shopper’s needs and help drive sales in store:

“We have received great feedback on this initiative and look forward to developing this further to help supermarkets and shoppers alike.”

Coming from a grocery background with Danone and most recently PepsiCo, Gareth is a firm believer in category management. When it comes to advice for supermarkets on what to do to grow their lagers, beer and cider sales, he maintains the most important thing is to be flexible:

“All retailers, including supermarkets, need to ensure they are adapting their product lines to reflect changing consumer behaviours. One of these ways to do this is to diversify stock, offering consumers new experiences. In recent years, the biggest changes have been the rise of premium, world and craft beers.

“You have to keep an open mind and be ready to respond. Going forward my goal is to ensure Molson Coors remains First Choice for our customers. Working with the team, I want to help them grow their sales, deliver new opportunities for consumers and maintain our own market strength.”

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