Yuengling: Dealing with some crafty competition

When news broke back in July that Yuengling Brewery had hired a new ad agency, some began to wonder if the Pottsville brewery was losing its competitive advantage.

Was the brewery trying to re-invent itself? Would there be drastic changes to the iconic brand? Were they falling behind in a flooded beer market?

The simple answer is they just wanted to thank the city that put them on the map.

“When I purchased the brewery from my father in 1985, Philly was one of the first cities to really embrace our beer and claim it as their own,” owner and president Dick Yuengling told Metro. “I’ve always been proud of that association, that you can ask for a Lager and get a Yuengling, and it all started in Philadelphia. So the campaign exists now to thank Philadelphians for their loyalty to our beer.”

Yuengling was founded in 1829 and is America’s oldest brewery. It is also the largest American-owned brewery after Anheuser-Busch was sold to a Belgian company in 2008. But being the largest never mattered to Yuengling. Their goal has been to keep the brand relevant — in the place where it all started, Philadelphia.

“It’s never been my goal to be the largest,” Yuengling said. “It’s very important to us to grow in our backyard.”

“We’ve had a really, nice visible presence in Philly for the past five years,” said Megan Maguire, market manager for Ommegang.

But the new ad campaign is not in response to craft beer’s success. The way they see it, it’s a thank you card for being loyal to Yuengling. The beer will taste the same. The logo won’t change. And this Friday, at 6:30 p.m., Yuengling will host PhillyWide Lager Toast, where more than 250 area bars will offer patrons one free bottle of Lager.

“We really wanted to give back to one of the cities that started our fortunate growth,” said Yuengling, who will personally lead the toast live on Comcast SportsNet. “So how would you thank a friend for their help, or reward a co-worker after a long day at work? You buy them a beer.”

Gaining on the big guys

Craft brewers, in particular, have maintained solid financial growth in recent years. Dollar sales were up 15-percent in the first half of 2011 and the volume of craft beer sold was up 14-percent.

Craft brewers continue to innovate and brew beers of excellent quality,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “America’s beer drinkers are rapidly switching to craft because of the variety of flavors they are discovering.”

Dick Yuengling, president and owner of Yuengling Brewery, acknowledged the trend, but noted that he doesn’t feel threatened by their success.

I enjoy trying some of the local crafts from time to time, as I appreciate the art of brewing. When we started brewing lager in 1987, I wanted to create a brand with more flavor and color than what was popular or mainstream at the time. So I understand the desire to invent new tastes and styles, and the desire of the consumer to try them,” Yuengling said.

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