The Adolph Coors Co. will begin test-marketing a new "super premium" beer this winter as part of a diversification and expansion plan that is expected to lead to construction of a Coors brewery in Virginia.
The name -- and taste -- of Coors' answer to Michelob, Lowenbrau and Heineken is still a closely guarded secret, but Coors' strategy is as easy to read as a marketing textbook.
From a one-beer, one-brewery, family-owned company, Coors is being transformed by Adoph's grandsons into a formidable rival to the beer baronies of Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing and Joseph E. Schlitz.
Last August Coors moved into the light beer business adding shiny silver cans to the golden labels of the Golden Colo., brewery.
In 13 months Coors Light became the second-best-selling beer in its market, but that market is only 16 Western states. Coors is "bootlegged" to the rest of the country outside the company's official distribution network, including the Washington area.
Tapping the rest of the country's beer market -- regular, low calorie and super premium -- is the goal set by Peter Coors, 33, and his brother Jeff, 34, sons of President Joseph Coors. Jeff runs the brewery as senior vice president, technical operations, and Peter peddles the products as senior vice president, sales and marketing.
Since 1975, when Coors sold nonvoting stock to the public, "We've gone through a significant change of philosophy," explained Peter Coors. He was in Washington yesterday for a directors' meeting of the United States Brewers Association and to talk about the changes which he acknowledges have been "philosophically, very hard for the family."
"We don't have any big feeling that we have to be the number one brewer in the United States," said Coors, "but we think we can compete with them in the marketing game.
"What we have that our competition doesn't have is the potential volume that is untapped by us," he explained.
Not only are beer drinkers in 32 states thirsty enough for Coors Banquet Beer to pay as much as twice the usual price for it, but the rapidly growing "super premium" beer market is wide-open to Coors.
With its nameless new product, Coors hopes to repeat the success it enjoyed in the light beer business. Light beers now account for 12 to 14 percent of the nation's brewery output. Super premiums claim 8 percent of the market, but are growing at the rate of 25 percent a year.
"We see people bending over backward to pay more for beer," said Coors. "People are willing to pay for the perception of increasing their self-image."
To bolster its marketing, Coors has more than tripled its advertising budget-from $9.9 million in 1976 to $33.5 million in 1978-has replaced its in-house advertising department with a Madison Avenue agency, and brought in a marketing vice president, a platoon of MBAs and a PH.D psychologist.
But perhaps the most important move has been to buy options on 2,000 acres of the Shenandoah Valley outside of Harrisonburg, Va. When -- or even if -- there will be a Coors brewery in Virginia, the Coors vice president wasn't saying.
"I don't think there is any question that we eventually will sell beer in the East," he said. "There's no question that eventually we are going to need a brewery in the East.
"Today we don't need another brewery, he continued. "We have additional capacity. We don't know how much longer it is going to take" to sell all the beer the Golden plant can brew.
He carefully stressed that the Virginia property is one of two sites the company is interested in. The other is in North Carolina.
A decision on whether to build the Harrisonburg plant will have to be made by the end of this year when options to purchase the land expire, he said. An environmental study is un-
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Sept. 20 (AP) brewery is likely to meet local air and water pollution regulations. Coors said it could take many months to get all the necessary permits.
The first hurdle -- rezoning of the land by Rockingham County -- was cleared earlier this year, but the decision has been challenged in court by local opponents, lead by a teetotaling Mennonite minister.
Before brewing its beer in the Shenandoah Valley, Coors is likely to start shipping the product here from Colorado to build up the market, Coors said, ticking off "some of the scenarios" for the company's expansion.
Importing beer from Colorado would allow Coors to enter the market, then increase its share of the business and its territory gradually while the eastern brewery is under construction.
Another possibility, he added, would be to build the eastern Coors brewery to make the new super-premium product and continue to make Coors Banquet Beer only in Colorado.
That strategy, the chief Coors-marketer acknowledged, would solve the problem of living up to the Coors' label's promise that the beer is "brewed only from pure Rocky Mountain spring water."
But there may be another solution-for looming above the Shenandoah brewery site is a foothill of the Blue Ridge that's known locally as Rocky Mountain. See COORS, E3, Col. 1