Odwalla Upsizes and Updates Packaging

Odwalla's updated 2014 packaging.  Courtesy of facebook.com
Odwalla’s updated 2014 packaging. Courtesy of facebook.com

Odwalla’s most recent packaging update has upset some consumers.  The premium juice maker was considered a leader in sustainable packaging by using Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle technology, but the makeover has them abandoning the PlantBottle in favor of the regular plastic bottle used by other beverages (BevNet story here).  This update also sees Coca-Cola’s premium juice brand forsake their color-coded cap system implemented in their previous packaging update – just last year.  Does this imply that the 2013 changes were unsuccessful, and confused consumers?  Will that the recent changes return their competitive edge?

With consistent product packaging for six years prior to the 2013 update, it would seem that their 2013 changes were geared toward attracting new consumers to the Odwalla business.  After all, if the product was fantastic and equally adept at generating repeat purchases, why change it?  Introducing a color-coded cap system was designed to build the juice franchise through educating consumers on their product portfolio.  Green caps denote “superfoods,” red meant fruit smoothies, blue equaled proteins, orange represented juices, purple for quenchers and finally yellow communicated seasonal products.  Do you think six different cap colors for over 20 different juices and smoothies help educate the juice browser, or frustrate them to the point of walking away?  Despite good intentions, this packaging change likely turned consumers away rather than bring them into drinking Odwalla.

Part of Odwalla's updated 2013 packaging.  Courtesy of facebook.com
Part of Odwalla’s updated 2013 packaging. Courtesy of facebook.com

Rectifying this fiasco necessitated the 2014 packaging changes.  Though a stronger competitive set meant returning to the old system wouldn’t suffice.  Everyone (Evolution Fresh, Bolthouse Farms, Naked, and a host of other niche players) had larger bottles compared to the Odwalla 12oz (355ml) bottle.  In order to properly compete, Odwalla brought in a bigger bottle in addition to making it clear.  They also returned to green caps to (hopefully) simplify the consumer’s shopping process.

It’s hard to say if these packaging updates helps restore the premium juice maker’s competitive advantage, though it’s a step in the right direction.  Anything that simplifies the shopping process has a higher probability of getting sold.  What may also help them increase sales is securing produce placement, which is what they are trying to do.  The product section is a stronghold juices made by Bolthouse Farms, Arthur’s Fresh, and POM, so getting product placement in this area will certainly help Odwalla enter the conversation among premium juice purchasers.  Only time will tell if this new, simpler packaging will help move the needle for Coca-Cola’s premium juice brand.

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Code Red Joins Mountain Dew’s Canadian Flavors

Mountain Dew Canada adds Code Red as a permanent sku to join Voltage as a fan-voted flavor.  Image courtesy of Mountain Dew Canada's facebook page.
Mountain Dew Canada adds Code Red as a permanent sku to join Voltage as a fan-voted flavor. Image courtesy of Mountain Dew Canada’s facebook page.

It looks like Mountain Dew Canada’s crowdsourcing contest has brought another drink flavor to grocery shelves for permanent distribution.  Following their win in Canada’s first Backed By Popular DEWmand, Code Red (Cherry) will return to shelves alongside Mountain Dew, Diet Mountain Dew, and Voltage (Raspberry Citrus).  Code Red had been available in the U.S. since 2002 and is considered one of the brand’s most successful extensions, so it should not be a surprise that it won the contest.  That said, after bringing in another flavor extension – and essentially doubling their assortment from two items to four items – what will Mountain Dew do next year in Canada?  Should they (or will they) repeat this consumer activity, or give a rest to avoid fatigue?

More info: Voltage Wins Canada’s first DEWmocracy

We can look toward the American crowdsourcing contests for some insights.  The first DEWmocracy ran in 2007, and again in 2009.  Backed by Popular DEWmand ran in 2011 to resurrect a flavor for a limited duration.  Beyond those three consumer activities that helped launch (or re-introduce) new soda variants, it appears Mountain Dew had abandoned the promotion in favor of other marketing activities.  A BrandWeek interview in 2010 with Brett O’Brien (Pepsi’s Marketing Director) described that the key objective was to openly and honestly communicate with Dew fans and consumers (link here).  It could be that Mountain Dew learned to focus on developing an entire social platform (ie Green Label) to engage with their fans on a sustained basis, rather than support crowdsourcing contests that generated a short term surge in conversations and awareness.

On the Canadian front, running this contest again in 2015 may induce fatigue.  Having ran the social media contests so close together (back-to-back years of 2013 and 2014), repeating this campaign for 2015 may lead beverage enthusiasts tuning out.  Worse yet, so much repetition may lead consumers to consider the brand as boring and unimaginative.  Despite the gap in available flavors, the Canadian team could decide to execute some other initiatives to launch new drink flavors or drive consumer engagement.  At the very least, their campaign findings could be compared with the American counterparts to determine next steps.

Ultimately, Mountain Dew’s crowdsourcing campaigns have delivered them two years of success and made many people happy along the way – consumers and retailers alike.  And the main message that they may have learned?  Is that Canadians and Americans alike are passionate about Mountain Dew.

Big Red Buys Xyience, Ends UFC Partnership

Xenergy Lineup

It seems the beverage industry continues to go through some form of consolidation.  Big Red Inc. – one of North America’s Top 10 beverage organizations – has acquired Xyience effective immediately.  Xyience – one of the more well-known energy drink brands through their sports sponsorships – now joins a drink portfolio that includes Big Red Soda, Hydrive Energy Water, Nesbitt’s, and Thomas Kemper Soda.  While many things may change for Xyience in the future, one thing has already changed as a result of this acquisition: Xyience has ended its UFC sponsorship.  Will ending this sponsorship hurt Xyience’s growth among their core demographic?  How else will their communicate to this group of consumers?  Will the gains from being part of Big Red’s system outweigh Xyience existing as a standalone energy drink company?  What benefits Xyience in this arrangement?

One major factor: Big Red’s national footprint.  Xyience had been working well to gain distribution, winning more doors and regions over the past few years.  However, most of these distribution gains have occurred along the coasts.  There are many areas within the U.S. that Xyience products cannot be found.  Joining Big Red gives Xyience national distribution by piggybacking off of Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG), which is a national distributor and delivers to three-quarters of all Big Red retail accounts.  This change alone provides significant gains for Xyience, allowing the energy drink to challenge Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar across more geographies.  The best part is that this is organic growth, where Xyience can rely on their brand name to help them do some of the work.

Beyond distribution gains, another growth opportunity for Xyience would be to broaden its target audience.  While the energy drink manufacturer owns a niche following among a select group of consumers, appealing to more consumer groups will help this brand evolve from its current state to a much larger energy drink player.  Hence ending their UFC sponsorship.  Gary Smith – Big Red’s CEO – said as much:

“I’m just gonna soften it (their image) up a little bit, make it a little less hardcore than the image that it’s got today.”

Ending the sponsorship won’t immediately alienate their niche consumers, but provides the opportunity to reach other consumer groups.

If managed properly, Xyience may be primed for explosive growth following its Big Red acquisition.  The brand is very recognizable and will be available in more places where consumers will recognize them.  And in the distant future after new consumer marketing content is built, they will certainly be challenging Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar for share of mind in addition to share of shelf.

Coca-Cola Builds a Monster

Image courtesy of brandchannel.com
Image courtesy of brandchannel.com

Looks like Coca-Cola realizes what it’s good at and what it isn’t good at.  Their increased stake in Monster Beverage proves as much.  With $2.1 billion invested, Coca-Cola now owns 17% equity in the energy drink behemoth, and in turns switches up their product portfolios.  Coke will give Monster their own acquired or homegrown energy drink brands, which includes Nos, Full Throttle, and Burn among many others, while Monster trades them their non-energy drink products, such as Hansen’s Natural Sodas & Juice Products, Peace Tea and Hubert’s Lemonade.  This deal brings together the world’s largest soda manufacturer and the U.S.’s largest energy drink manufacturer.  Although both sides got a great win out of this, but who needed this deal more – Coca-Cola or Monster?  Let’s start by seeing what each side actually gets out of this arrangement.

For Coca-Cola, acquiring a larger stake in Monster and then trading energy drinks for teas & juices serves as a win in itself.  With consumer habits and preferences changing, fortifying their product portfolio to keep pace with these changes was a necessity.  And with key brands generating bad press lately (think Diet Coke slogan fiasco), Coca-Cola could not afford to keep beverage products that carry high negative publicity potential.   Nos, Full Throttle, and the like most certainly qualify given the category requires caffeine content regulation following linkages to caffeine poisoning.

Energy drinks didn’t necessarily fit into the brand image that Coca-Cola wanted to sustain.  Energy drinks focus around an extreme sports lifestyle, with key sponsorships across mountain biking and motor biking.  Distancing the brand from energy drinks better promotes Coke’s image as a family-oriented product manufacturer.  Furthermore, their marketing acumen is better leveraged across Monster’s non-energy products given Coca-Cola’s existing strength across juices and teas.  Coca-Cola has already made a strong name for itself behind Minute Maid, Simply, Odwalla, Nestea, and Honest Tea.  Giving up energy to return focus to juices and teas helps Coca-Cola stay sharp and work on what they’re good at.

Hubert's Lemonade, now part of the Coca-Cola family.  Will this lemonade brand grow exponentially?  Image courtesy of hansens.com
Hubert’s Lemonade, now part of the Coca-Cola family. Will this lemonade brand grow exponentially? Image courtesy of hansens.com

For Monster Beverages, this deal unlocks a stronger global distribution network to grow their product base.  They’ve also added some larger name-brand energy drinks to complement Monster.  A strong competitor like Nos now becomes a fantastic ally.  Full Throttle owns a cult following despite Coca-Cola’s neglect and has a very good chance of being resurrected.  This arrangement gives Monster a wide assortment of products to target energy drink consumers, both locally and internationally.

Monster has also done a better job at marketing energy drinks than Coke because they’ve invested in resources to build out an entire lifestyle.  Energy drinks are more integrated into a consumer’s lifestyle than some other beverages, given their wide target in terms of drinking occasions.  The soda drink manufacturer was not prepared to build out a 24/7 lifestyle like how Monster, Rockstar, and Red Bull have.  Though Monster’s success isn’t a defined blueprint, they already have the infrastructure in place for one energy drink and this could be scaled up for other energy drinks.

It’s really hard to say who needed this more though Coca-Cola benefits more in this new arrangement.  The soda maker had more to lose because they were never going to catch Red Bull, Monster, or even Rockstar with their homegrown products.  Giving up distribution bought them expertise and healthy beverage brands.  Similarly, Monster’s true success existed in the energy drink segment, so much that they even changed their company name to halo off some brand equity.  Their strength in energy drinks would have prevented them from properly developing their nonenergy product portfolio.

Regardless of who benefited more, this only proves that larger companies must take creative approaches to keep growing.  In the past, it was about building strong brands.  Now, it’s about buying a brand that’s already been built, and making it stronger.