US. New head of Iron City brewery aims to expand production with new products

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The New York private equity fund that is the new owner of the Iron City beer brands said it was committed to reviving the historic brews and growing the business by developing new products.

Uni-World Capital LP acquired the Iron City and IC Light labels as well as other brands last week from the brewery’s owners, an investment group that acquired it at a 2007 bankruptcy auction.

Uni-World named Edwin Lozano, 43, whose resume includes stints at PepsiCo, Miller Brewing and Coca-Cola, president and CEO of the company.

In an interview Tuesday, Lozano declined to disclose the purchase price or provide current production figures. He said no debt was used to make the purchase. Uni-World also acquired transportation equipment used to deliver the beer to wholesalers. The private equity concern also assumed contracts with wholesalers and City Brewing, the La Crosse, Wis., brewer that makes Iron City’s beers in the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe.

For the time being, Iron City’s new management team of 16 will work out of the historic brewery’s former offices on Liberty Avenue in Lawrenceville, Lozano said. He expects the company to employ more than 20 by year end.

Uni-World managing partner Christopher P. Fuller said the new owners “intend to reinvest future cash flows back into the business.”

Uni-World takes on a 150-year-old beer that has suffered from a succession of new owners since 1995, when the brewery was sold for $31 million at a bankruptcy auction. That ownership group sought bankruptcy protection in 2005 after the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority threatened to terminate service over unpaid bills. The brewery was sold in 2007 at another court-supervised sale to an investment group led by waste industry executive John Milne, who was later convicted on securities fraud charges.

The brewery’s decision to end brewing in Lawrenceville in 2009 and move production to Latrobe, as well as its continuing disputes over water and sewer bills, further diminished the popularity of the hometown beer.

Lozano said he would be more involved in the Pittsburgh community than the previous ownership group was.

“I’m about growing businesses,” Lozano said. “There’s no doubt we’re firmly rooted in Pittsburgh and will strengthen and deepen our ties to Pittsburgh.”

He said the contract with City Brewing, which was to expire in about three years, has been extended two years.

Uni-World’s priority is to reposition Iron City and IC Light to appeal to younger drinkers, who account for a substantial share of the market, Lozano said. New advertising should hit the market within 90 days, but he declined to put a price tag on the campaign.

Uni-World also plans to expand other brands such as American Beer, an economy brew. Lozano said companies in China, Russia and Chile have expressed an interest in importing the beer, and that his global marketing experience with Miller and Pepsi would enable him to capitalize on those types of opportunities.

There are also plans to revive dormant brands such as Olde Frothingslosh and J.J. Wainwright’s.

“Some of them are just diamonds in the rough waiting to be polished up and put into the marketplace,” Lozano said.

Uni-World expects to introduce one or two new products this year and will ramp up product development next year, he said. Much of the focus will be on craft beers, the only segment of the beer industry enjoying healthy growth.

Lozano said wholesalers were excited about the change in ownership.

“They see we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” the Queens, N.Y., native said. “They welcome my background and experience.”

Uni-World faces a new player in the nostalgia beer market. Upper St. Clair attorney Mark Dudash brought the Duquesne Beer label back to the market last fall. Dudash said the eighth batch of Duquesne currently is being brewed at the same Latrobe plant where Iron City is produced. The beer debuted in bottles and is now available in 30-pack cans.

“Things are going very, very well,” Dudash said.