After another poor showing in the third quarter, Molson Coors (TAP -0.40%) has come to the same realization many other brewers have: Beer doesn't sell anymore -- particularly as it's been taken over by new beverage innovations, most notably hard seltzer.
But unlike the others, Molson is undergoing a major restructuring to meet this new reality, swapping out businesses into more manageable components and aggressively going after new markets that are decidedly not beer.
Molson Coors' new president and CEO Gavin Hattersley said in a statement:
Our business is at an inflection point. We can continue down the path we've been on for several years now, or we can make the significant and difficult changes necessary to get back on the right track.
The new path means it's a different world for the brewer, so it's going to need a new name, too. Beginning in January 2020, Molson Coors Brewing Company will become Molson Coors Beverage Company, reflecting its new focus on non-beer opportunities to match changing consumer preferences.
Let's see what happened that caused it to believe it needed to radically alter its DNA.
Canada sends chill winds
The brewer reported earnings that showed a big loss of $402.8 million, or $1.86 a share, compared to last year's $338.3 million, or $1.56 per-share profit. The loss was driven in large part by a goodwill and asset impairment charge totaling $692 million that was related to its Canada unit. Net sales were down 3.2% to $2.8 billion thanks to declining volumes, repeating a lot of what it saw last quarter.
Although Molson saw some gains with a few brands, such as its Blue Moon Belgian White which saw volumes rise 2.3% globally, and Miller Lite, which rose 0.7% globally but gained market share in the U.S. premium light segment for the 20th consecutive quarter, it was not nearly enough to offset the steep declines felt elsewhere.
Miller Genuine Draft volumes fell 11.4%. Coors Light was down 4.1%, though it also picked up share in the U.S. premium light segment, which suggests just how hard of a time the beer business is having here, and Molson Canadian was down 9.4% from last year.
Brand volume, which includes volumes produced across all facets of Molson's business, including that produced by third-party brewers, fell 2.4% in the quarter, while financial volume, which excludes contract brewers, fell 5.5% from last year.
Engineering a restructuring
The slump, which in many areas is much worse than what's happening in the industry at large, finally convinced Molson that it needed to change direction -- and in dramatic fashion.
Out are its four previous geographical divisions (U.S., Canada, Europe, international); in are just two: North America and Europe.
Also gone is the MillerCoors name, which represents the U.S. market and was created in 2008 when Molson formed a partnership with SABMiller before the latter was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev. It will be folded into the North American division along with Molson Coors Canada.
The European business will become a more stand-alone operation, with local European personnel taking charge. Included will also be the Africa and Asia units from the existing international unit, while its Latin America business will become part of North America. All the changes will take place in the first quarter of 2020.
Seltzer changed everything
Perhaps of greater importance is Molson's decision to invest in bringing new beverages to market faster, going from an average of 18 months down to four, and getting them to scale up quickly.
That's likely the result of Molson -- and most other brewers -- being caught flat-footed by the explosion in popularity of hard seltzer. Molson has its own brand out there, Henry's, but it is an afterthought in market share. The brewer plans to introduce a different brand, Vizzy, next year, which it says possesses characteristics that will help it leapfrog the competition.
Maybe, but it will be hard to wrest share away from leader White Claw and Boston Beer's Truly, which together own 80% of the market.
More changes brewing
Molson Coors, of course, isn't completely abandoning beer. It also plans to invest in the above premium market, which remains the industry's fastest-growing segment at the moment. Yet when considering the change in focus to beverages beyond beer and the change in the company name to something that no longer focuses on brewing, it's clear beer is taking a back seat.
The brewer will limp through the rest of the year, and next year won't be much better as Molson forecasts revenue and earnings to fall because it views 2020 as a "transition year." But that also suggests investors may want to wait to see if the brewer can really change its direction for the better.