Revisiting the Mid-Calorie Soda Segment


Courtesy of adage.com

Does anyone still remember Pepsi Next or Dr Pepper 10?  Anyone know how well these drinks are performing?  It seems that since their launch last year, not much has been said about these hybrid-sweetener sodas.  Pepsi has been focusing on their core offerings of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Pepsi Max, while Dr Pepper has been left with the task of bringing news and excitement to the entire mid-calorie segment.  So far, it seems that mid-calorie sodas have taken a backseat to regular and diet cola products.  In the past two weeks, there has been some major stories from Advertising Age (link here), brandchannel (link here), and even myself at Canadian Grocer (link here) on how mid-calorie soda is doing.  While manufacturers recognizes the importance of this segment, it’s just not gaining momentum within the consumer market.  So what is wrong with mid-calorie sodas?  What will it take to make these drinks a success?

The jury is still out on whether mid-calorie soda is a success or a failure, but it’s certain that the beverage companies have not been supporting it at the levels necessary for long term success.  It seems that marketing efforts were most prolific during the launch period to gain awareness, but has not kept pace over time when it was most critical to win consumers over: the repeat purchase.  At release, news reports indicated that these drinks endured high rates of consumer sampling.  Pepsi and Dr Pepper gave away these carbonated drinks for free to stimulate trial.  However, the repeat rate has not been mentioned as much.  That is, how many consumers given a free can of mid-calorie soda ended up purchasing these particular drinks later?  Not much apparently.  Reports have indicated that the mid-calorie drinks’ sweetener leaves a bitter aftertaste and has led drinkers to stay away from it.  Therefore, people that were given that free can may have liked it because it was free, but would choose to drink another soda (or an alternate beverage) when they have to pay for it.

Courtesy of Forbes.com

Both sodas companies should have maintained marketing support to focus on championing the benefits of these new products.  Despite the bitter aftertaste, the fact remains that fewer calories are consumed per serving.  Pepsi Next and Dr Pepper 10 should have talked up these benefits relative to other sodas in order to win over consumer perception of a bitter aftertaste.  Instead, they continued on leveraging against the humor (Pepsi Next with their Baby commercials) and gender exclusivity (Dr Pepper 10 with their Manliest Man commercials).  It would have been better to educate the consumer as an alternative to other beverage segments with an identical amount of calories, or other sodas that were sweeter but contained the most calories.

So how can they make these beverages and the overall mid-calorie segment a success?  Or are these drinks primed to quietly disappear like so many other beverages before their time?  Does anyone still remember Coca-Cola Blak?  Or Pepsi XL? Or Orbitz?

Advertising and promotions.  Both Pepsi and Dr Pepper should keep up their mid-calorie advertising efforts to maintain brand awareness.  It seems like an obvious solution to ensure mid-calorie sodas stay alive long enough to see their potential through.  However, in organizations where performance is judged by quarterly performance and not much else, there is no room for tweaking unless it’s on-the-fly.  The interim period from when a new mid-calorie sweetener will be introduced is very crucial for manufacturers to preserve their shelf space.  These beverages must be afforded marketing support and in-store promotions to drive repeat purchases.  Without consumer incentives to stimulate purchases, retailers will have no choice but to remove slow sellers from the aisle.

The fact remains that health groups have picked out carbonated soft drinks as a strong contributor to obesity.  Consumers are also more focused on the sugars and calories they put in their bodies.  Mid-calorie sodas taps into these trends very well.  These soda innovations contribute less to obesity (relative to their full calorie counterparts).  It will also meet the needs of calorie-conscious individuals that want less sugars.  Whatever the case, mid-calorie sodas are here to stay and are crucial for the survival of the soda segment.  If not Pepsi Next and Dr Pepper 10 this time, it will be something else in the near future.

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