Bottle-cap lures reeling in anglers
Inventor wants brewers to sponsor fishing contest, but they're not biting
By TOM DAYKIN
Norm Price is on a crusade that has two goals: Help fellow anglers catch more fish, and recycle millions of discarded beer bottle caps from bars and restaurants throughout North America.
Price is the Canadian inventor of the bottle-cap lure, a beer bottle cap pinched together with tiny ball bearings inside, and a hook attached to one end. The rattle of the lure's steel bearings, and its shiny, colorful finish, can cause an unsuspecting lunker to strike faster than an angry Teamster, he said.
The lures are catching on with anglers throughout Canada and the United States, said Price, a fishing and hunting guide in Sherbrooke, Quebec, who has sold nearly 100,000 lures over the past five years. He now hopes to persuade major brewers, including Milwaukee's Miller Brewing Co., to sponsor a contest that would award cash to people landing big fish with his bottle-cap lures. So far, though, Miller and other big brewers aren't taking the bait.
Brewers "spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on ridiculous marketing campaigns," said Price, owner of the Bottle Cap Lure Co. "In this case, where you can help save the environment, why wouldn't they participate?"
That hasn't discouraged Price, who couches his plans to make a buck with pronouncements on battling the global menace of bottle-cap pollution.
"I don't know how many times I go fishing and see bottle caps on the bottom of the river," Price said. Recycling those caps from litter to lures "could happen all over the world," he said.
Price fashions his lures from whatever bottle caps he can scrounge. His "six-pack" of lures - which sells for $35 at www.bottlecaplure.com - features a half-dozen popular brands: Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser, Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue.
The brewers of those brands haven't given Price written permission to use their caps - something he regards as a technicality. Along with the Web site, Price also sells the lures in more than 100 sporting goods stores, bait shops and other retailers throughout Canada.
"I've had brewing companies tell me I don't have a license to do this," Price said. "I've basically come back and said, 'In your face. I don't need a license to recycle your trash.' "
Montreal-based Molson Inc. doesn't care if Price uses its caps, as long as he doesn't use the Molson logo on the packaging for the lures, said company spokesman David Jones.
Molson has invited Price to submit a written proposal for his fishing contest idea, Jones said.
But Jones said fishing contests aren't a major marketing venue for Molson. He also expressed some weariness in dealing with Price.
"Norm calls every couple of days," Jones said.
The three largest U.S. brewers, Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing and Adolph Coors Co., haven't threatened to sue Price for using their caps. But they haven't exactly rushed to sign up as sponsors.
"After review, Anheuser-Busch declined Mr. Price's business proposal," according to a statement issued by the St. Louis-based company. "The product does not fit with the image of Anheuser-Busch's brands."
At Miller, "We're always looking for new and innovative ways to connect with legal drinking age consumers, but at this time we are not pursuing any association with the Bottle Cap Lure Company," said spokesman Scott Bussen.
Pittsburgh Brewing Co., however, is in hook, line and sinker.
Pittsburgh, which sells mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, is paying Price to produce 1,000 to 3,000 lures with caps featuring the Iron City Beer logo, said Tony Ferraro, vice president of sales and marketing.
Pittsburgh Brewing plans to distribute the lures as promotional giveaways in 2005, Ferraro said. A lot of beer drinkers, he said, also fish.
That's exactly Price's point. He notes that Miller's High Life brand has used promotions and ads tied to fishing to emphasize High Life's "regular guy" image.
"This is right up their alley," Price said.
His unwavering confidence that the big brewers will see the light stems from the surprising success of the bottle-cap lure concept.
Price was drinking a beer one night when he took the bottle cap and bent it together, indulging a longtime habit. He nonchalantly tossed it on to a table next to some fishing hooks and lures. He was then struck by the similarity in shape between the tools of his trade and the distorted cap.
Price decided to create a lure. He then went with a fishing buddy to a nearby river, and promptly caught a big brown trout. When his friend told Price that it was a fluke, he cast again. This time, Price caught a nice rainbow trout.
Price, then living near Calgary, Alberta, later moved to Sherbrooke to be with his girlfriend. His company now has about 30 employees, mostly college students working part time. The bottle caps - his main raw material - come from local bars and restaurants, such as Cafe Bla-Bla, which provides them for free.
"He asked for them. So, why not?" said Ariane Cloutier, kitchen manager at Cafe Bla-Bla, which has been supplying bottle caps to Price for the past year.
Price expects sales to jump thanks to a recent spate of media attention, including a feature that ran several times this month on "CTV News," Canada's national television news show.
Meanwhile, Price still seeks sponsors for his fishing contest, which he dubs the "battle of the brands." He envisions anglers using lures fashioned with Miller Genuine Draft caps competing with those favoring Budweiser lures, and other such stunts. It's an idea inspired by God, Price said, and will help clean the environment and put people to work - as well as sell a boatload of bottle-cap lures.
"Beer and fishing have always gone hand in hand," Price said.
Check out the bottle cap lures website here.