Chelsea, Anheuser-Busch's embattled "baby beer," will be reintroduced on market shelves Monday, but the alcohol has been taken out of the beverage, said Keith Marshall Jones, a company spokesman.
Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer, has removed the frothy head from Chelsea and gone from a clear to a green bottle. The brewer's name has been dropped from the foil sash, and the ad slogan, "the not-so-soft drink," has been abandoned for the less brassy claim that Chelsea is "the Natural Alternative."
Still smarting from the protest that led it to withdraw the original product that was two and one-half years in the planning and cost more than $2 million to promote, the company said it would be months before the new product is free from the effects of the adverse publicity its predecessor drew.
Addressing a gathering of 25 reporters and camera men at the National Press Club yesterday, Jones said the brewer was "new at the game" and "not experienced at diversification."
"Normally you test the product out before you disrobe before the public," said Jones, who admitted the company was surprised by the public furor surrounding its product and embarrassed by the publicity.
Jones said the company has not decided what to do with the thousands of bottles of the original Chelsea already in storage and may "dig a hole and bury it."
But Jack Purnell, vice president of planning and development, said the company "had international inquiries about the product and we are considering them." He said an African country whose name he refused to disclose had offered to buy the remaining stock of the original Chelsea.
The protest over the original Chelsea began in Staunton, an extension of the Richmond test market, and was spearheaded by a local chapter of the Virginia Nurses Association which claimed the product was aimed at "conditioning" youth to acquire a taste for beer.
The protest spread when Joseph Califano, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called for the product's removal from the five test markets around the country.
A spokesman for Sen. Hatch told reporters yesterday that the senator "praised the company for quick response and positive action in correcting misconceptions, ambiguous advertising and unwise product development in its drink 'Chelsea.'"
Hatch, who earlier had criticized the company for its slogan, "the not-so-soft drink," which he said drew attention to its .05 percent alcoholic content, said "this corrective action shows courage and genuine public concern."
Jones said it would be several months at least before the apple-lemon-ginger-flavored drink would be available outside the selected test market sites.
It was the second time in the company's 150 years that it made a bid for the soft drink market-the last time being with a near-beer called "Bevo" which went bust when Prohibition was repealed.
Although the company stood by its earlier statement that Chelsea never was intended for the young, Jones said "the aura of publicity created a forbidden-fruit aspect that youngsters found appealing."
The company originally hailed Chelsea as the "Michelob of soft drinks," but now is calling it the "Cadillac of soft drinks" in a effort to disassociate the product from near-beer image which gave rise to the squall of protest.