Colorado-based brewer, Coors Brewing Co, is set to increase its presence in the malt-based beverage sector with the launch of a new brand, Vibe, later this spring. Vibe should be available in at least eight major cities by early May.

Coors' existing malt beverage brand, Zima, which was launched in the 1990s, is to be re-packaged in order to tap into the growth in this area of the market. When hinting that it would be adding a new malt brand to the portfolio, Coors described the new product as "Zima's wild cousin".

Vibe is a fruit-flavoured malt drink with a 5% alcohol content. It is to have black and red packaging and will be sold in 12-ounce long-necked bottles. A further roll-out for the brand is planned for the autumn.

The arrival of Vibe on the market follows a number of "malternative" launches from major drinks groups in the US. And the boom in this sector shows no signs of slowing down. Spurred by the arrival of Smirnoff Ice in the US, the malternative category grew by 87% in 2001 compared with 2000. When compared with 12% growth in imported beer, 9% growth for premium light beer and 6% for premium beer, it is little wonder that the likes of Coors and Miller, not to mention a number of spirits producers are showing interest in the sector.

The Coors announcement follows the news that Brown-Forman is entering the malternative market with a Jack Daniel's malt variant being developed in collaboration with Miller. The Philip Morris-owned brewing group is also collaborating with Allied Domecq and Skyy Spirits on malt beverage line extensions. Not being left behind is the US number one brewing force, Anheuser-Busch, which is launching Bacardi Silver in partnership with the leading rum brand.