Pabst’s new captain is a branding master

In late June, C. Dean Metropoulos & Co., an family investment firm based in Greenwich, Conn., acquired Pabst Brewing Co.

Pabst has not had a physical presence in Milwaukee since it closed its brewery here in 1996, but remains important to the city’s history. Pabst closed its last brewery in 2001, after it contracted with Miller Brewing to brew its beer.

While Pabst Blue Ribbon has enjoyed growing popularity in recent years, the Pabst Brewing Co. portfolio also includes Colt 45, Old Style, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz and other regional beers such as Lone Star, Rainier and National Bohemian.

Metropoulos & Co. is one of the most successful brand-builders in the food business. During the last 25 years, it has invested in and managed brands, including Chef Boyardee, PAM, Bumble Bee Seafood, Swanson, Hungry Man, Vlasic, Ghiradelli Chocolate and others.

Dean Metropolous, president of C. Dean Metropoulos, is widely regarded as a Madison Avenue marketing genius. Metropolous recently spoke about his plans to revive the Pabst brand with BizTimes reporter Eric Decker. The following are excerpts of that interview.

BizTimes: What was it about the Pabst brand and its portfolio of beer brands that appealed to you?

Metropoulos: “We have a lot of experience with brands. We have managed more branded companies than any private equity shop in the country, and we felt confident with the brand. The heritage surrounding these brands is so special that we were inspired to get involved with them and continue to build them.”

BizTimes: Pabst has had a nice resurgence in popularity in recent years. How do you keep that momentum and keep the brand growing?

Metropoulos: “With Pabst, we want to stay true to its current appeal to its consumers. From our perspective, it is the one brand that we probably feel needs the least change. Something is working very well with it, and we want to be very careful observers of that and not lose the relativity that it has with its loyal customers.”

BizTimes: The Pabst portfolio includes a wide range of brands, both national and regional. What plans do you have for some of those brands?

Metropoulos: “(We have) national brands such as Colt 45 that we think has an incredible opportunity to get back to some of its original roots and grow to fit some other growing niches that have evolved over the past two, three, four years. In that malt category, there has been a fair amount of innovation. I think that innovation has attracted new consumers, so I think we want to take a much closer look that some of those new growth levels and capitalize on them.

“We have a great brand like Old Milwaukee. It again it is a very value-oriented brand, but people don’t realize that Old Milwaukee has earned 30 percent more medals for its light beer, gold medals, than its nearest competitor. It is remarkable. There are a lot of great consumers who like their traditional brew that has great flavor and at the same time is very value-oriented. We need to focus on that consumer and not worry about what the Heineken consumer is. It is a different consumer, and we want to stay true to the old Milwaukee brand.

“Old Style is as respected in Chicago as any brand you can get. I want to focus on a regional strategy that brings back the meaning of Stroh’s in Ohio and Detroit and Lone Star in Texas and Rainier in Seattle and Oregon and National Bohemian in the Atlantic states. These brands all have great traction, and Schlitz in Milwaukee. These brands have great traction and have good, positive momentum in their growth trends. There is, I think, another thing that is going on in the country and the craft brewers have identified that – the desire to come back to our roots by creating an identity between our consumption patterns and a product that is more local to us. There is an opportunity to create significant penetration with some of our regional brands that already have great momentum and are well-recognized in a lot of these regional markets.”

BizTimes: How will you market Pabst and Schlitz in Milwaukee, where there is so much local heritage?

Metropoulos: “We are going to look for local grassroots, guerilla marketing techniques to bring more exposure to the local market. I’m not sure if we have defined exactly what those marketing, the guerilla marketing ideas are going to be. But, you can count on my sons and the management team to think outside of the envelope, to drive some of those regional ideas with identity of the brand and the taste of the brand.”

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