Smokey and the Bandit helped make Coors Banquet beer.
The Burt Reynolds-Sally Field romp centered on an illegal shipment of Coors being trucked from Texas to Georgia in 1977.
The premise seems silly today, of course, since Coors is available nationwide. But back then, you couldn’t buy Coors on the East Coast.
And the film drilled the brand, its yellow can and pure Rocky Mountain spring water into the American mainstream. (A few years later, E.T. got drunk on the beer.)
But Coors Banquet, first brewed in 1873, has seen better days. While it hasn’t disappeared, like some other legendary American beers, it has been overshadowed by Coors Light, other national brands and the rise of craft beer. And that special mystique featured in Smokey and the Bandit seems to have long faded.
Hoping to breathe new life into the brand, Coors has launched nationwide television ads promoting Coors Banquet. The brewery last month released four heritage cans, celebrating significant moments in brand history. And this week, Pete Coors, chairman of MillerCoors and great-grandson of founder Adolph Coors, and his son David, associate brand manager for Coors Banquet, concluded a promotional RV road trip from Golden, Colo., to New York City.
Along the way, they gathered stories from fans and marveled at the loyalty of some drinkers, including those who used to make long road trips of their own to stock up.
“The neat thing about this project is that until the late ’70s, we were in 11 states in the West,” Pete Coors said last week during a stop at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland, where he threw out the first pitch for the Cleveland Indians-Los Angeles Angels game. “People used to come out to the West for vacations, sometimes just to get the beer.
“All over the place, we hear stories about how they used to go to Colorado or Kansas and the West and bring cases back home.”
Pete and David Coors said beer drinkers are rediscovering the brand.
Indeed, while many other premium brands have seen sales slip, Coors Banquet has increased its market share — albeit slightly — for the last six years, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights, which tracks the industry.
“Even craft beer drinkers are finding that sometimes they need something not quite as heavy and hoppy, and Coors Banquet fits and has more flavor, so they are rediscovering it,” Pete Coors said.
David Coors added: “When they go back to the beer, they remember that it’s a very flavorful beer.”
Today, Coors sells 1.3 million barrels of Coors Banquet, the 24th-largest brand in the country. The brand peaked at around 13 million barrels in the 1970s, according to Beer Marketer’s Insight. By comparison, Coors Light sells 18.2 million barrels a year.
MillerCoors has a brewery in Trenton, Ohio, where Coors Light is made. But Coors Banquet is produced only in Colorado.
“We decided Golden, Colo., is its home and heritage and that’s where we’re staying,” Pete Coors said. “It’s just a point of uniqueness for the brand.”
The fall of Coors Banquet isn’t unique. Full-calorie American premiums such as Budweiser and Miller have seen their market share fade as a wave of consumers turned first to light beers and then to craft beers.
It can be difficult even to find Coors Banquet at many bars and restaurants.
Stanley Slater, the Charles and Gwen Lillis Professor of Business Administration at Colorado State University and a Coors employee in the early 1980s, questioned whether the brewer can bring back Coors Banquet.
“It’s going to be pretty tough to revive that brand with its flavor profile,” he said. “It just is not robust enough.”
Coors Banquet also doesn’t appeal to younger drinkers, and MillerCoors would need to do a complete makeover, Slater said. When asked how the company could revive the brand, he responded: “I can’t think of a way.”
And another Smokey and the Bandit isn’t around the corner, Slater added.
As for that famous film appearance, everyone always wonders how much Coors paid to be in the movie, Pete Coors said.
Turns out, nothing. Those were the days before official product placements.