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.

Coca-Cola Expands “Official” Olympic Drink Portfolio

Courtesy of eprize.com

It’s another year for the Olympic games, this time in Sochi.  For Coca-Cola, every Olympic year is a boon based on the event partnership agreement where they hold the distinction of official Olympic non-alcoholic beverage partner.  As one of the Olympics’ global partners, the beverage giant pays about $100M to monopolize non-alcoholic beverage serving rights in all Olympic venues (other global partners hold exclusivity in their respective industries).  In recent years, the definition of “non-alcoholic beverage” has expanded to include more than just carbonated soft drinks.  Coca-Cola has gained exclusivity to serve sports drinks (Powerade), juices (Minute Maid), and waters (Dasani, vitaminwater) over the past few Olympics games.  The “Olympic Wolrdwide Partner” logo has also started appearing on Coca-Cola’s ZICO coconut water brand lately.  So given the substantial cost, how beneficial is it for Coca-Cola to be a worldwide Olympic partner?  And with the expanded definition of “non-alcoholic beverage”, which product categories are next to gain Official Olympic product status?

Despite a cost of $100M each active Olympic year, Coca-Cola has renewed their Olympic partnership until 2020.  It would appear that this agreement delivers substantive returns.  For one, Coca-Cola has blocked out their global competitor in all product categories that the conglomerate participates in.  No Pepsi-branded soft drinks, Aquafina, Gatorade, or Tropicana can be served within all Olympic-event venues.  Brand visibility is another partnership benefit.  Every game or after-party event that becomes broadcasted will feature a Coca-Cola logo or Coca-Cola beverage product.  Live viewers and spectators may only celebrate with Coca-Cola branded products and nothing else.  Positive associations is another partnership benefit.  Spectators seeing their athletes win also see them hydrating themselves with Coca-Cola products.  These same spectators will associate hard work, performance, and winning all being supported by Coca-Cola.  From a qualitative perspective, these are invaluable benefits that Coca-Cola has been able to enjoy – reduced competition, brand visibility, and positive associations.

Courtesy of designyoutrust.com

With changing taste preferences among spectators and athletes alike, incorporating other product categories as “Official Drinks” certainly makes sense.  Some people will choose carbonated soft drinks, some will want flavored water, and still some people prefer juices.  With coconut water emerging as a beverage category, expansion to include this as an Olympic-approved beverage makes sense.  However, increased exposure of Olympic branding potentially cheapens the Olympic brand with broader availability on all products – not just beverages.  Furthermore, not all products will be suitable to display the Olympic logo on its packaging.  For example, energy drinks may be one category that could be denied Official Olympic product status given possible negative associations despite the category growth.  Within Coca-Cola beverage portfolio, it’s likely that liquid enhancers (Dasani Drops, Powerade Drops) and teas (Honest Tea, Fuze) could gain approval should they apply for it.  Both these categories are enjoying growth and have fewer negative associations portrayed by the media.

Coca-Cola has been one of many key sponsors that has supported the Olympic games through the years, and it appears that both parties are satisfied with the results.  2020 is still three more Olympic games away, but given the goodwill both parties have been generated, it’s very possible that this relationship goes well beyond 2020.

Honest Tea for Kids “Splash” into Target Exclusively Until June

Courtesy of honesttea.com
Courtesy of honesttea.com

Honest Tea has extended their beverage assortment by launching youth-specific drinks titled Honest Splash in mid-March.  These 70-calorie juice offerings are offered exclusively in Target U.S. until June, when it will be open to other retailers to order and stock.  BevNet has more information on the launch here, while the official press release from Honest Tea is available here.  Since both sources have focused on the benefits of the product itself, I won’t dwell anymore on what has already been discussed.  What is interesting is how Honest Tea has decided to push this product out to the marketplace.  They exclusively partnered with Target for this launch, while their other previously launched product – Honest Fizz – was released through an exclusive partnership with Whole Foods.  Available in Berry Good Lemonade, Goodness Grapeness and Super Fruit Punch, Honest Tea makes these offerings available exclusively to Target’s 1,250 locations.  Why is Honest Tea launching exclusively in one retailer over another retailer?  Does this help them, or is this a decision that Target wanted?

For today’s retailer landscape in Canada and the United States, it’s important to drive consumers to your banner because it implies that they will be spending their total grocery dollars in your store rather than at the competitors.  As such, exclusive offers or “first-to-market” offerings are typically used to give one retailer a leg up over the competition.  It’s important to note that this type of exclusivity doesn’t work with all types of products and services.  For Honest Tea to receive this kind of attention from a national retailer is impressive.  Target certainly views that the Honest Splash is strong enough to sway consumer purchases, similar to how a hot new video game may drive purchasers to buy it from one electronics stores over another.  I would characteristic this as a joint decision to launch this exclusively in Target.

What about why they chose Target, versus any other mass retailer or grocery store?  Why not Whole Foods? Or Walmart? Or Walgreen?  What is it about Target that makes it the best choice for Honest Splash to launch there?  All these other retailers are national and well-known, so what makes Target so special?  To answer this, let’s start by eliminating those retailers that I detailed above.

Although Whole Foods seems like a great choice to consider another exclusive arrangement, Honest Tea has already done one with the premium grocery retailer (the aforementioned Honest Fizz from January to mid-March).  Offering two successive exclusive items may damage your relationship with other retailers.  It may give the impression that you “prefer” Whole Foods more than other retailers and could potentially lead to shelf space reductions or delistings.

Walgreen could be a great choice given their core focus on healthy offerings, but they are in fact a pharmaceutical retailer and thus beverages do not comprise a large portion of their overall store focus.  The focus is more health and wellness shelf stable items.

Walmart is a price-conscious retailer and would not be the most suitable place to launch an exclusive, premium offering.  Even their U.S. slogan “Save Money. Live Better” hints at lower prices than other retailers and launching a new product that effectively competes on price from day one would be inappropriate.

Target US LogoWhile Target’s slogan of “Expect More. Pay Less.” is similar to Walmart’s, the emphasis is the “Expect More” portion and thus positions less on price.  As a mass merchandiser retailer that also offers grocery and pharmaceutical items, Target is more suitable than Whole Foods and Walgreens.  Consider also the Target shopper profile, which skew heavily to moms that want what’s best for their kids and thus making Honest Splash a perfect offering.  Their shoppers are also tend to define value through strong offerings at reasonable prices, which means that they will not have to compete solely on price.

This is a good choice for an exclusive offering between Honest Tea and Target.  Ultimately it looks like something that both companies wanted to make happen.  It’ll be interesting to see the results of whether the Honest Splash beverages actually drives shoppers to forsake their grocery retailers for Target.

Honest Tea Modifies Packaging To Benefit Consumers

Honest Tea's new bottom - courtesy of mnn.com

Honest Tea typically produces their beverages in plastic bottles that have a dome-shape at the bottom of it, but this dome-shaped bottom has caused some consumers that Honest Tea is tricking them in relation to the actual amount of liquid inside each bottle.  While the bottom says 16.9oz (473ml) liquid is inside each bottom, some are wondering if there’s actually less.  As a result, they’ve issued a statement on their website to clarify this:

We recently switched to a thinner bottle, one which is 22% lighter. This saves us money and saves the world resources. The only problem is that the thinner bottle had the risk of getting dented. In fact, this was a real problem that forced us to redesign the bottle. To help keep its shape, the inside must be under pressure. When the bottle is filled with hot tea, the liquid expands and the plug on the bottom pops out. (If you squeeze real hard, you can make this happen.) Then as the tea cools, the plug pops back in and creates the pressure on the inside that prevents the bottles from being damaged. The thinner plastic means we needed more pressure and hence the bigger plug. There really is 16.9 oz. inside and we aren’t trying to pull a fast one. But we can see how you could get confused or could think that we are trying to be deceptive. We clearly need to do a better job explaining why the bottle has this design. In the next label run we plan to say something to explain this to our customers. We hope that makes you feel that you can still trust us and will stick with us.

Honest Tea has since switched to new, flatter bottom bottles to make it less confusing for their consumers.  This packaging adjustment is great timing as their parent company, Coca-Cola Refreshments, is exploring growth opportunities to increase Honest Tea’s visibility and awareness. Nestea will be distributed by Nestle Waters (Nestea’s original parent) starting sometime in 2013.  This means that the tea category is poised to be shaken up slightly with more competition as Nestle Waters will undoubtedly be promoting Nestea vigorously to gain sales (bevwire article link here).

Honest Tea flat bottom

For Honest Tea, paying attention to what their users are saying is just the entrance fee into the growing tea category.  The packaging change-up shows their current users that the company has heard what they are saying, but it does not bring in any new users.  What Honest Tea does in addition to this adjustment is what may help them gain more space in the category.  As they look for growth opportunities and try to gain more space at the retailers, their conversations and results with the retailer’s buyer are paramount.  They must show the retailer that they have a better product, a more profitable product, or both (which would be the best scenario).  In which case, showing them consumer demand is up for tea products and how Honest Tea best satisfies the most is what determines whether they will win or lose.

 For Honest Tea to have success, switching to flatter bottoms is just the first of many steps.  Most retailers may already have their 2012 summer shelf and cooler spacing planned, but if a product not in the planning set shows potential, it can merit a replacement of a slow selling product.  If Honest Tea can convince that they deserve more shelf space at retailers this summer, that would go a long way to helping them out gain space when Nestea comes of a competitor’s delivery truck.

The Fate of Nestea and FUZE in the Tea Category

Nestea

Most readers that also follow the beverage industry or the BevWire twitter feed know that Coca-Cola and Nestle Waters have altered their distribution agreement, with Nestea to be distributed by Nestle Waters after the end of 2012 (source article here).  The article goes on to state that Coca-Cola will focus on increasing the visibility for their own line of teas, such as FUZE, Honest Tea, Gold Peak, and Peace Tea.  How will this play out for the two beverage giants, Coca-Cola and Nestle?

Nestle Waters – a spinoff from the Nestle S.A. – originally bottled and distributed water exclusively, but has recently began to extend their offerings with a tea acquisition.  Bringing Nestea back into the fold for them now gives them a much stronger and balance tea portfolio.  Nestea will serve the value and price-conscious end of the tea spectrum, while Sweet Leaf Tea and Tradewinds cater to consumers at the organic and premium end of the spectrum.  Nestea itself is also popular and likely ranks as one of the larger tea brands in North America (other major players in a oligopolis category being Lipton, AriZona, Snapple).  Nestea may very perform better under new ownership, since its exclusive business operations are waters and teas. It may likely benefit with higher marketing budgets as they now become a key brand among some lesser known brands, and competes with fewer brands for funding.  Business customers like Wal-Mart, CVS, and other supermarkets are not likely to be too affected since they already stock Nestle Waters products, so Nestea will now be brought to them by the same trucks that the Nestle Waters products come off of.  Consumers may not even notice any difference, because the product is essentially the same as taste and packaging stay the same.

How about for Coca-Cola, how does this distribution partnership affect them?  With Nestea no longer coming off their delivery trucks, the company’s focus is to grow FUZE first and foremost.  Honest Tea, Gold Peak, and Peace Tea will also benefit from increased attention.  However, although FUZE stands to have the most opportunity to make a name for itself in the tea category, the brand is somewhat struggling currently.  FUZE is currently known for its juice offerings (except for Subway where it is already available as a fountain tea beverage) but struggling to fully differentiate itself among other competitors.  With the exception of FUZE’s Slenderize juice line (low-calorie benefit), FUZE’s other offerings are not easily connecting with consumers as a vitamin-enhanced juice.  Consumers currently see the FUZE line as just another emerging juice product that blends together unique fruits (peaches with mangos, bananas with coconuts, etc).

Fuze lineup - courtesy of foodbizdaily.com

Coca-Cola’s first order of business is to ensure that consumers understand the value proposition and benefits of the FUZE.  And because the company now understands that FUZE will represent both juices and teas, their positioning and c0mmunication will be markedly different from what it was before – simply raising the profile will not be enough.  The key message can no longer be about vitamin-enhanced juices, but either vitamin-enhanced juices and teas  or simply vitamin-enhanced products.  In that vein, it will be interesting to see what type of advertising message FUZE will come up with.

Another key area of concern may be the pricing strategy for FUZE.  Nestea exists as a value player in tea, while FUZE is a premium-priced juice offering.  If FUZE were to replace Nestea as Coca-Cola’s value tea offering, FUZE will have to adjust its pricing strategy to enter as a value competitor.  Is that in itself a good strategy?  As a company, do you want to trade down from a premium offering (higher margin product) to sell incremental bottles but make significantly lower margins?

Although Nestea will not be officially transitioned to Nestle Waters until 2013, there is a lot of preparation for both companies to do.  Coca-Cola will have to maintain its efforts on Nestea in North America, but be mindful that by 2013 Nestea will be a product that competes against their own tea offerings.  They also cannot legitimately stop their efforts on promoting Nestea since Coca-Cola still holds distribution rights for Nestea elsewhere in the world (Europe, Asia, etc).  At the same time, Coca-Cola must be working hard to raise FUZE’s profile as well as their other offerings to cover for the loss of Nestea.  On Nestle’s part, they must prepare for taking on a large tea brand and look for opportunities to increase Nestea’s market position.

There’s no word on whether how much of this will affect Canada, but since Canada’s market is closely affiliated to the American market, there is likely to be some impact.  Keep an eye out for these changes when Nestea changes hands.

RTD Tea Category Growing – Driven By Convenience and Natural Food Stores

Arizona and Tazo tea

Packaged Facts published a research paper in early October stating that Ready-To-Drink (abbreviated RTD,  sometimes referred to refrigerated tea or bottled tea) is showing growth and resilience despite an economic downtown in the United States (link to the abstract here, but unless you want to buy the report you won’t know the full details of the research).  I’ve also wrote about the tea category’s growth in convenience stores earlier in the year (link here).

While the focus is entirely on the United States, there are some similarities between the two markets of U.S. and Canada, so the category’s growth is relevant to consumers here.  Packaged Fact’s research abstract points to the growth being driven by convenience stores and natural  food stores, although grocery stores remain the top channel that shoppers choose to purchase tea from.  In Canada, I would suggest that specific tea shops and also coffee shops (think Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, Second Cup, and Blenz, etc) also contributed to the tea’s growth.

Consumers already have a belief that tea is a healthier option relative to coffee, and many are sacrificing coffee beverages for tea or other caffeinated beverages.  Therefore the coffee shop’s survival depends on their ability to expand their beverage offerings beyond what they are experts at.  Walk into a Starbucks and you will see Tazo tea, Naked Juice, and Ethos water,  while Tim Horton’s will have a refrigerated section that includes Lipton bottled tea.  While these coffee shops’ main purpose is to serve coffee, having tea and other category options allows them to keep the customer happy and retain them, rather than losing them to a competitor.  After all, would you still go into a coffee shop with a friend if neither of you wanted coffee and they only served coffee, why not go into a tea shop?

Honest and Lipton tea

Focusing back on the growth of RTD tea, the report mentions that natural food stores drove double digit growth.  This point is intriguing because natural food stores are seen as niche and somewhat unconventional in their grocery offerings.  However, the growth of tea products in this channel may indicate that consumers are receptive to healthier alternatives, and bottled tea products that are stocked in these natural food stores may soon see wider distribution because of this healthy trend.  Another insight may be beverage manufacturers anticipating this trend and have looked to get their tea products listed and distributed in natural food stores to reach a wider audience.

In any case, it looks as if the tea category’s growth has very strong potential in the upcoming years.  As a healthy alternative to carbonated beverages and coffee, tea may be growing at these beverage category’s expense.  And it may provide competition in more than the traditional setting of your grocery store’s beverage aisle, as coffee shops and natural food stores are increasingly stocking tea options.

Taking this one step further, how can beverage manufacturers like Coca-Cola and Pepsi protect their carbonated offerings?  Since the beverage conglomerates also have tea offerings in their beverage portfolios (Coca-Cola with Nestea and Honest Tea, Pepsi with Lipton and SoBe), a solution may be a two step process.  First, gain distribution within these natural food stores (and other alternative channels like tea shops and pharmacies) for their respective tea beverages.  Next, understanding that there may be space and refrigeration limitations within the store, provide a health-branded cooler (of course, also include the manufacturer’s logo somewhere) to resolve these limitations, and bring in quick-moving and higher margin carbonated soft drinks.  These carbonated products can offset the cooler’s cost and provide these alternative channel retailers with a wider beverage selection to grow their customer base.

So the next time you step into a natural food store, keep a look out for the tea offerings they have available.  Are the tea offerings all-natural and names that you have rarely heard of?  If so, look out for these beverages in your traditional grocery store aisle in the near future, as they may be gaining wider acceptance in the market.  Or are they the Honest Teas and Liptons that you are familiar with?  If so, then the beverage manufacturer has successfully entered the alternative channel to expand their tea’s growth.

Honest Tea’s Social Experiment – Are Americans Honest?

Over the last few weeks, U.S. cities have been running a live social experiment on the subject of honesty.  Honest Tea (and for this social experiment the word play of “Honesty”) has set up unmanned “tea booths” across cities including Boston, Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles where consumers can pick up a bottle of Honest Tea by donating $1 into a plastic box.  There is supposedly a camera watching the unmanned tea booth, but no one would be there to stop the consumer from stealing a bottle if they decided to not pay (or slip in an IOU note, monopoly money, or put in $1 and take 3 bottles, etc).  So far the results (posted on the microsite www.TheNationalHonestyIndex.com) indicate that Boston citizens (99%) are the most honest while New York citizens (87%) are least honest.  The site also provide a camera link for each city the experiment is run, so you can watch to see if people are putting in a dollar when they grab a bottle.

The marketing campaign appears to be successful so far, with strong social integration and media impressions.    Social aspects include the ability to tune in on-line to the city of your choice, choosing the foundation that all the donations will go to, and the usual twitter/facebook/google+/e-mail/etc.

The campaign is sure to generate a lot of goodwill for Honest Tea, but will it bring in sales for the beverage, especially after the campaign and tea season (summer) ends?  So far, the translation to their bottom line is positive – almost all cities are seeing sales growth, ranging from strong double digit sales growth to modest single digits in others.  Depending on how long the campaign is run for, I might be able to watch this live in Boston or San Francisco when I make a visit later in the month.

Whether Honest Tea will carve out a stronghold in the category against larger manufacturers like Lipton, Nestea, or AriZona is a question for another day.  Though for a smaller player in the category, this is something that will certainly catch attention, generate buzz, and show that you understand how to reach your target market.