Around 1990, the top marketing guy at Coors, Bob Rechholtz, announced that he was leaving the brewery "to pursue other interests," as those sorts of releases commonly put it, often as euphemism for a forced exit. In this case, however, the exit wasn't forced. A real visionary in many ways, Bob had been the force behind Zima, and so it could be argued, he is the father of the alternative malt beverage category. Now he set out on a new mission, one he had crafted all on his own. Bob wanted to tap "the next huge opportunity in the drinks business."
Alas, we all missed the biggest growth segment in the beverage business. Now a $25 billion category, but back then, there was no such thing as an energy drink to give you wings. And no brewer was much interested in looking for that opportunity.
Yesterday's announcement that Constellation Brands, the highly successful U.S. importer of Corona and Modelo beers was taking a serious financial stake in the world's largest publicly traded marijuana company, Canada's Canopy Growth Corporation, is a next-big-thing game-changer. In fact, it's not unreasonable to predict the cannabis-infused beverage market in the U.S. will in time dwarf Red Bull, and who knows, may even challenge beer.
Will these new beverages be called relaxation drinks, get-aways, mellow brews, or something else? Regardless, there is strong appeal to this product idea. Because one thing is certain: a safe, legal, mood-altering drug in a glass is a winning proposition.
The future is never perfectly clear and there are plenty of hurdles ahead, not least of all, government regulation. Distribution will also be a challenge as beer distributors will want to benefit from the growth potential of these marijuana beverages. Constellation (and its followers) may well resist that. Regardless, this seems a watershed--"seizing the high ground" (pun intended)-- moment in the beverage business.
Somewhere in North Carolina, Bob Rechholtz has a knowing, satisfied smile on his face.