Sugary soft drinks are frequently maligned by watchdog groups, who blame them for a number of ailments. At the same time, the category has been slowly losing share to “better-for-you” beverages such as RTD teas, bottled water, sports and energy drinks and functional beverages.
Of course, the major players have not been sitting idle during all this. To coincide with National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in September, Coca-Cola partnered with the Washington Nationals baseball team to promote its “Live Positively: Get the Ball Rolling” program. The initiative is designed to educate kids about healthy lifestyles, including exercise and nutrition.
This fall also marked the appearance of a limited-time-only can design for Diet Coke. The new look ties into the launch of new ads in Coke’s “Stay Extraordinary” campaign. In addition, a new 12.5-ounce PET bottle was introduced this fall.
Smaller, “portion-size” containers are a strategy many bottlers are pursuing to reduce calorie counts. Another tack is the so-called mid-calorie beverage—a category in between diet and regular sodas. PepsiCo is reportedly testing one of these soft drinks. The reduced-sugar Pepsi Next boasts 60 percent fewer calories than regular Pepsi. This is not the first attempt at a reduced-calorie beverage for the company; Pepsi XL and Pepsi Edge came and went a few years ago. Coca-Cola also floated its own lower-cal version, dubbed C2, without much success.
For its part, PepsiCo launched a new television spot titled, “Music Icons” during the debut of Fox TV’s pop music show “The X Factor” with the slogan, “Where there’s Pepsi, there’s music.” Also trading on pop music’s popularity is Fanta, which kicked off its U.S. marketing campaign this year with the new “Chase” commercial that debuted on “American Idol” last spring.
Soft drink marketing and expansion has gone global. Fanta is promoting its brand worldwide with commercials, print ads, mobile ringtones, websites, digital banners and in-store displays. With its bottling partner Coca-Cola Hellenic, Coke recently opened a new plant in Russia and announced an investment of $3 billion (U.S.) over the next five years, commencing in 2012.
Garden to glass
“It all started in my back yard,” recalls Mason Popp, bar manager at Trattoria Sagra in Austin, Texas, describing the inspiration for the Italian restaurant’s farm to table—and glass—approach. When the longtime gardener grew more produce than he could consume, he began selling the excess to the trattoria. That arrangement worked so well that management set up a greenhouse to supply fresh herbs and produce year round—with Popp as horticulturist.
The greenhouse to table strategy was such a hit that it was extended to the bar, with Popp commissioned to create drinks—both alcoholic and not—using fresh herbs. On the soft drink side, he created Limonata al Rosmarino ($4), accenting Sagra’s fresh-squeezed lemonade with rosemary-infused syrup and carbonated water. Although Sagra offers several fountain products, the herb-accented soda is the most popular nonalcoholic drink. “I think herbaceous soft drinks are having a big boom right now,” says the bar manager.
The drink program evolves with the seasons. Currently, Popp is experimenting with sage and fresh grapefruit juice. “I don’t muddle the sage, but just clap it, which releases the flavor from the leaves,” he explains. The horticulturist is also planting more esoteric herbs, including lemon thyme and spicy orange thyme.