While the official beer selling season gets underway on Memorial Day (May 26 this year), marketers are hoping to make up for a lackluster Q1 by getting summer started early as warm weather sweeps the South and West and consumers end their Lenten abstemiousness. The sweeps and promos this year for the bigs are relying more heavily on driving consumers to websites this year, which is risky considering that the WSJ reported yesterday that 42% of Americans don’t ever surf the web (albeit an older poorer crowd).

A-B. The red ‘n whites are taking the high road this summer, perhaps to distinguish itself from the other two. A-B is putting up quality/image billboards and POS across the country touting born-on dating and “Think Fresh. Drink Fresh” initiatives. A-B will also aggressively cross-merchandise displays with tie-ins with snacks, charcoal, wieners, etc. Where legal, A-B will feature the “99 Days of Summer, 99 Chances to Win” sweepstakes, directing consumers to their websites to win Apple iPods, camcorders, and portable DVD players.

MILLER. Miller shelving their six year old music tour efforts and are banking on their “Destination Miller Time” theme, with elaborate displays featuring beach motifs. They also will offer sweeps and coupons where legal. Miller airing new Catfight ads (the Pamela Anderson pillow fight can be viewed on and continue their storytellers campaign. This will be an important summer for Miller as it will be Stormin’ Norman Adami’s first in the US and the first after Graham Mackay ordered a turnaround in 18 months.

Curious winds have been blowing from Milwaukee over the past few days as wild rumors are flying about (as they always do during times of transition), but nothing concrete and nothing to report. They are just that, rumors. Competitors are hoping for disruption but so far Miller distributor execution remains good from what we hear.

COORS. You’ve got to give Coors marks for innovation. This year Coors will unleash a 2/12 LN package called the Cooler Box, a laminated carton that will hold ice and water for hours without disintegrating. Coors will still go for the young drinker with POS with hottie cheerleader Bonnie Jill and, of course, the Twins. They will also, where legal, give away $10k a day through an instant win sweeps with a code printed on the inside of packages that can be matched up with winning codes on their website.

LEO A HEDGEHOG. We note that Coors pres. Leo Kiely was mentioned in Forbes this month as a believer in the hedgehog mentality: focus on one thing at a time (as opposed to the fox mentality, which is to be clever about a number of endeavors). Coors Light is that one thing. Coors execs are crossing their fingers that the young adult consumer that has responded so well to the Twins in focus groups will now go out and actually purchase Coors Light. The brand did see a little up-tick in supermarket sales in March, and they are hoping that this momentum will translate into real share gains this summer.

IMPORT SHIPMENTS DOWN IN FEBRUARY. Overall import shipments are sluggish but the numbers can be misleading. In the latest report issued Wed from the Beer Institute, import taxpaids down -6.8% in Feb, down -7.6% YTD-Feb. But the damage is coming mostly from the large barrel base of Mexican shipments, down 6.2% in Feb going against a big buy-in last year on Corona price increase.

Also we can blame the usual suspects: Bad weather on the East Coast and poor economy. UK shipments down big, -51.1% but UK volume is typically unstable month-to-month as inventories change and shipping timing shifts. Irish imports, lead by Guinness, up 57.9% while Netherlands (mostly Heineken/Amstel Lt) down -8.5%. Japan, which is little noticed because its base is much lower than the countries above, is nevertheless hurting with imports down -79.1% in Feb, lead by Asahi and Kirin .

VIRGINIA SIGNS DIRECT SHIPPING BILL. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner signed a bill allowing direct-to-consumer wine shipments from out-of-state wineries, largely making moot the court case addressing that very issue in the state (see BBD 04-11-03). The law takes care of the Commerce Clause problem of having different rules for in-state and out-of-state wineries. The new law takes effect July 1 with two provisions: Out-of-state wineries must buy a $50 license and may ship up to two cases per month per consumer.

You’ll recall that last year U.S. District Court Judge Richard Williams ruled unconstitutional a Virginia law banning the shipment of wine and beer from out-of-state vineyards and breweries to Virginia residents and from Virginia wineries to residents of other states. A stay was issued at the time, and a three-judge panel heard oral arguments Jan. 22. Virginia is the 23rd state to allow for interstate, direct-to-consumer wine shipments from out-of-state wineries.

IT’S FAR FROM OVER. Three direct shipping lawsuits (Michigan, New York and Texas) are winding their way through appellate courts. And don’t forget that circuit court judges returned a case in Florida last November back to the original trial court. Developing..

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. This from Wai Kee Tan, manager of Interbrew’s Nanjing operations in China, as told to the WSJ: “An interesting fact — if you take the top 10 leading international brands and add up all their volumes, it will only equal 10% of the total consumption of beer worldwide. This means that 90% of beer which is drunk in the world is local beer.” Not surprising from an exec from “The World’s Local Brewer.”

Have a great Easter weekend and I’ll see you Monday, Harry

MTD Sell Day: 14 Sell Days This Month: 22 Sell Days This Month Last Year: 22 YTD Over/Under Sell Days: 0 This Month Ends on a: Wed. Last Year This Month Ended on a: Tue.