Why Molson Coors Is Now Selling Vegan Milk

When you think about "cracking open a cold one with the boys," it's pretty unlikely that you have plant-based milk in mind. But Molson Coors is asking you to think again.

Milk alternatives like almond milk have taken the dairy market by storm over the past few years and grown into a whole armada of plant-based options — like soy milk or even potato milk. In 2021, the Plant Based Foods Association reported plant-based food sales grew 6.2%, reaching a record high of $7.4 billion. Of this, plant-based milk was responsible for a whopping $2.6 billion, making up 16% of all grocery store milk sales, per Food Business News.

And now there's new plant-based milk on the market, created by one of the last companies you'd probably expect. Step aside, oat milk. Introducing Golden Wing barley milk, made by American beer giant Molson Coors.

Starting in January 2020, the company known for its beer officially changed its name to Molson Coors Beverage Company, shared CNBC, severing ties with the word brewing. The company explained this change represented part of a larger brand makeover intending to "streamline the company, move faster, and free up resources to invest in our brands and our capabilities." At the time, experts pointed to an increased interest in "healthy" drinks and alcohol-free products as a possible reason the company decided to drop brewing from the name. Here's where Golden Wing comes in. 

Barley milk is the new beer

According to its website, Golden Wing boasts only five simple ingredients: barley milk (made from water, barley, and barley malt), sunflower extract, calcium carbonate, pink Himalayan salt, and shiitake mushroom extract. Unlike most nut-based dairy alternatives, the drink is not gluten-free (because barley), but the product does claim to pack 60% less sugar than 2% milk and 50% more calcium. 

Golden Wing's marketing slogans target Coors' existing audience by reading like a beer advertisement: "We believe healthier is bad ass," the website proclaims. Suggested uses include pouring it over cereal, into coffee, or "just chugging it back like the beast you are." 

Brian Schmidt, the marketing manager for non-alcoholic beverages at Molson Coors, explained the inspiration behind Golden Wing: "The plant-based milk category is growing rapidly, and it's largely fueled by innovation," he said, via Beer & Beyond. "With our background and [barley] expertise, we believe this will be the next major evolution in the plant-based milk category." 

Golden Wing became available at Sprouts locations in California in April and expanded to Southern California Whole Foods in May. It is also available on the Golden Wing website with free shipping on all orders. Cartons are sold by the quart in increments of six, with a price of $30 (equating to $5 per one-quart carton).

A nod to barley farmers

The brand's expansion beyond beer has already taken place. Molson Coors' La Colombe canned coffee products hit the national level in September 2021, reports MarketWatch, and its ZOA Energy drink, created with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, has emerged as the fastest-growing energy drink in America as of March 2022 after being on the market for about a year, per FoodNavigator USA.

Barley milk might seem like the furthest of these non-alcoholic beverages from the company's signature Coors Light, but the ingredients are a fitting homage to the roots of beer and the farmers who grow it. Golden Wing is made with what Coors calls "high elevation barley" on the brand website, non-GMO barley grown in the 7,500-foot elevation of the Rocky Mountains. The Coors Barley Program, established in 1946, partners with more than 700 barley farmers to promote sustainability in American agricultural practices. "Without barley, we have no beer — it's that simple," Molson Coors' chief procurement officer Bill Dempsey explained, via Sustainable Brands. "Helping our growers future-proof their own businesses makes sense for ours." As of 2020, it says, Molson Coors had already invested over $20 million in its commitment to sustainability.