Moosehead Breweries Limited is a family-owned Canadian brewing company that produces Moosehead Canadian Lager and is located in Saint John. The company has been family-owned for six generations and is currently led by Andrew Oland, the great-great-great grandson of the founders, Susannah and John Oland. Moosehead is the last major Canadian brewery to be owned by Canadians and the fourth-largest brewing company in the country, after Molson, Labatt, and Sleeman. Moosehead beer is sold in Canada, the United States, and 15 other countries worldwide. The company brews 19 beers under 10 brands, including Moosehead Canadian Lager, James Ready, Alpine, and Hop City. It also contract brews for six companies, including Samuel Adams and Estrella Damm.
John Oland, the founder of Moosehead Breweries, was born in Bristol, England, in 1819. After a variety of jobs, he emigrated to British North America in 1862 with his wife Susannah and their children. In 1867, the family began brewing beer in the shed behind their Dartmouth property, and the beer proved so popular that they started a commercial brewery named Turtle Grove Brewery, which was incorporated in October of that year. After John’s death in 1870, Susannah and her sons continued to run the brewery, which was renamed Army and Navy Brewery in honor of its principal patrons. In 1877, Susannah bought out the other partners and ran the brewery under the name S. Oland, Sons and Company until her death in 1885. The brewery was then taken over by her youngest son, George W. C. Oland, who sold it to an English syndicate in 1895.
During Prohibition, Moosehead supplemented its income from soft drinks and 2% beer by selling illegal “strong” beer in pubs and shops. In 1928, Moosehead & Sons purchased the Alexander Keith’s Brewery, the oldest brewery in the Maritimes, which gave it a monopoly on brewing in Nova Scotia. In 1933, George Bauld Oland acquired the James Ready Brewery in Saint John, which was renamed New Brunswick Breweries and later Moosehead Breweries Limited in 1947. Moosehead’s salesmen preemptively struck the draft beer market in 1962, allowing the company to dominate the draft market for decades. Moosehead’s success in the United States in 1978 encouraged an upswing in domestic sales. The company’s flagship beer was redesigned to give it a more Canadian look, and the brand was promoted as a premium product. Moosehead’s success continued into the 2010s, and it remained the largest Canadian brewer that was not majority foreign-owned.
In an effort to increase sales, Moosehead Breweries decided to explore new markets for their flagship product in 1975, after Derek Oland, son of then-chairman Philip Oland, suggested expanding into the United States, a proposition pitched by American importers. Previous attempts by Canadian brewers to break into the highly competitive US market had failed, making Philip Oland skeptical about the potential benefits of such a move. Nonetheless, Derek Oland persisted in his arguments and, after three years of deliberation, Moosehead made the decision to proceed.
Recognizing that effective marketing was crucial to the company’s success, Moosehead’s management team redesigned the packaging of their Canadian lager beer to create a more Canadian aesthetic. The old blue and white foil label was replaced with a new green label featuring the head of a moose and the words “Moosehead Canadian Lager Beer,” with a rustic feel intended to evoke the great Canadian outdoors. The brand was marketed as a premium product and priced accordingly, and instead of a mainstream advertising campaign, Moosehead strategically placed their product in prominent areas in retail outlets and bars and gave away promotional items such as T-shirts with the slogan “The Moose is Loose.”
The initial campaign had the desired effect, with Moosehead selling 96,000 cases in the US in 1978, almost twice their anticipated sales. The brand became particularly popular among students in the American Northeast, and at its peak, Moosehead sold six million cases in the US in a single year. Success in the US also led to an increase in domestic sales. When provincial trade barriers were lifted in 1992, Moosehead expanded its distribution across Canada. By the end of the 2010s, Moosehead was the fourth-largest Canadian brewer and the largest that remained primarily owned by Canadians.
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