How Fuze Became a Billion Dollar Brand

Coca-Cola's Fuze tea joins the company's growing roster of billion dollar brands.  Fuze surpassed a billion dollar in annual sales in 2014.  Image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com.
Coca-Cola’s Fuze tea joins the company’s growing roster of billion dollar brands. Fuze surpassed a billion dollar in annual sales in 2014. Image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com.

Per Coca-Cola’s news release a couple weeks back, the soda giant’s Fuze brand has joined the company’s billion dollar club this year (story here).  Fuze expanded into teas back in 2012 and surpassed one billion dollars in annual sales just two years later, which may make it one of the fastest brands under Coca-Cola’s stewardship to achieve this milestone. Regardless of their geographical footprint (40 markets and growing) or product assortment (30+ Fuze skus between juice, tea, and liquid enhancer flavors), reaching one billion dollars this quickly is surprising.  A key question to answer may be what happened in the past two years to help Fuze become one Coca-Cola’s roster of 20 billion dollar brands.

In 2007, Coca-Cola bought Fuze and promptly brought the juice brand into their beverage roster.  At that time, Fuze existed as a primary competitor to SoBe’s line of fruit juices owned by Pepsi.  The importance of tea in the brand’s portfolio emerged in 2009 when Fuze tea was part of the fountain drink options in Subway’s sandwich franchise restaurants.  Since then, the hydration brand has emphasized tea more than juices.  Securing distribution in Subway was a critical step toward Fuze’s current status.  Not only were they earning sales across Subway locations, their availability increased consumer exposure to Fuze as a ready-to-drink tea and a viable alternative to Coca-Cola’s soda offerings.  Even Samir Bhutada, Coke’s global director of tea and ready-to-drink coffee, mentioned that part of Fuze’s popularity was related to beverage trends around the ready-to-drink tea category because it delivers on great testing refreshment and natural goodness.

Another important step in Fuze’s history came in 2012, when Coca-Cola and Nestle Waters amended their Beverage Partners Worldwide distribution arrangement.  Save for Canada and a few other geographies, Nestle Waters would retain distribution rights for Nestea.  This in turn allowed Coca-Cola to redeploy efforts to their own stable of healthy refreshments.  Gold Peak and Fuze became the main benefactors of the company’s increased support.  This support materialized in both marketing and trade support.  With Nestea returning to Nestle Waters’ distribution network, this opened up more space for other beverages to grow their footprint within Coca-Cola’s distribution network.  As a result of this, Fuze cultivated a stronger international presence.

Coca-Cola Canada's Fuze Tea Drops: Green Tea Mango, Peach, and Raspberry.
Coca-Cola Canada’s Fuze Tea Drops: Green Tea Mango, Peach, and Raspberry.

The Coca-Cola system also support the brand by cranking out drink flavors built on its foundation of green tea and black tea.  With over 30 Fuze tea variants, consumers looking for tea options would not have any trouble picking a tea under the Fuze portfolio.  Most recently, Coca-Cola has extended the Fuze brand beyond bottled juices and teas.  Coca-Cola launched Fuze Tea Drops in the Canadian marketplace, building more momentum behind this brand with three flavors of liquid enhancers.  To support this rollout, the company activated Fuze Tea Drops with in-store signage and branded merchandising racks across participating Canadian retailers.  It’s also telling that Fuze was one of the select brands among Coca-Cola’s liquid enhancer portfolio, joining Dasani, Powerade, and Minute Maid as beverages available in this format.

In Canada, Nestea is still being distributed by Coca-Cola so Fuze tea may be limited in its availability.  Most Canadians only experience Fuze as a bottled juice unless they choose the brand where Coca-Cola Freestyle machines are available or purchase Subway sandwiches.  With Fuze tea drops, Canadians are one step closer toward experiencing Fuze the way other consumers get to enjoy it.  If Fuze tea drops sell well and Freestyle machines back up the brand’s popularity, there may be finally be Fuze tea coming to Canada.  At that time, Canadians will join other countries that further contribute to Fuze’s annual sales of a billion dollars.

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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.

Nestea and Lipton Go After AriZona

Nestea's new 695ml cans to compete head-to-head with AriZona.  Courtesy of facebook.com
Nestea’s new 695ml cans to compete head-to-head with AriZona. Courtesy of facebook.com

Each summer I pay a little more attention to monitor the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) tea segment.  Some of my beverage industry contacts say that AriZona’s dominance in the RTD tea segment have inspired other beverage companies to launch similar $0.99 tall cans to steal some of AriZona’s sales.  Most recently, I’ve noticed both Nestea and Lipton stock some competitive offerings.  Both have come out with tall cans of tea, with similar $0.99 price points labeled on the cans themselves.  Given that AriZona has made $0.99 teas their claim to fame and have been selling them for many years already, how successful will Nestea and Lipton be at stealing some sales?  More importantly, is selling tea at $0.99 profitable for Nestea and Lipton, or is there another reason for them to enter this segment?

Unlike AriZona, Nestea and Lipton have strong backers.  Nestea’s partnership with Coca-Cola provides them a robust distribution network.  Lipton also has a strong market coverage through their agreement with PepsiCo.  Both competitive brands would be able to leverage the sales and merchandising support of Coca-Cola and Pepsi to ensure retailer shelves are always stocked.  Beyond retail coverage, both Nestea and Lipton would get premium in-store placement locations.  Coca-Cola and Pepsi both own front-end cooler space as well as multiple locations within a grocery store, giving them the opportunity to stock products to their liking within these areas.  So unlike previous challengers, AriZona will face their strongest competition yet in Nestea and Lipton.  These two competitors have the necessary support and expertise to erode AriZona’s leadership in this segment.

Nestea's new 695ml cans to compete head-to-head with AriZona.
Nestea’s new 695ml cans to compete head-to-head with AriZona.

Given these dynamics, it certainly appears that Nestea and Lipton stand as formidable opponents to AriZona and steal their sales.  However, both Nestea and Lipton are known best for their offerings in a different tea format: bottled tea.  By rolling out these $0.99 aluminum cans, don’t they risk cannibalizing their own sales from a more profitable tea format?  Wouldn’t this make the decision to launch 695ml tea cans with $0.99 printed on it hurt their total tea business?  Given the risk associated with devaluing sales potential, why come out with tall cans at all?  In the end, they are just as likely to steal sales from AriZona as they are on stealing their own sales.

Simply put, it may be better to get less dollars from the consumer, than get none at all.  If their market research indicates that the same consumers buy both bottled tea and canned tea, both Nestea and Lipton have much to lose by not having a canned tea offering themselves.  And given the price range of canned and bottled tea, it would appear that canned teas serve as the “value” segment to get people to buy a tea product.  Bottled tea appears to serve more as a “mid-value” or “premium” segment.  Should Nestea & Lipton leave AriZona to own the value tea, it will be much harder to steal that tea customer away at a later point when they are interested in moving up the value chain to premium tea.

As long as you can get them to buy (or try) your drink once, you’ll stand a chance to get them to come by as a repeat customer.  Even if the immediate value is $0.99, there could be opportunities to get these thirsty consumers to buy the more expensive bottled tea at a later time.

evian Replaces Coca-Cola With Red Bull

Courtesy of designtaxi.com
Courtesy of designtaxi.com

It appears that Coca-Cola and evian have both outgrown their distribution partnership.  Come July 2014, Coca-Cola will stop distributing evian waters (read the full story here).  Consequently around that same time, some U.S. cities may see evian being distributed off Red Bull delivery trucks (that story found here).  While Coca-Cola & evian describe the agreement’s termination as an opportunity to refocus on their core businesses, it may simply be Coca-Cola wanting to re-focus on their own water brand as smartwater continues to build sales.  With this adjusted partnership, who wins and who loses?  Coca-Cola, evian, or Red Bull?

It would seem that Coca-Cola is constantly looking at ways to ensure delivery truck space is stocked with as much Coca-Cola-owned refreshments as possible.  Coca-Cola appears to be re-evaluating all their distribution agreements in order to locate new growth opportunities.  It was only two years ago in 2012 that Coca-Cola ended a distribution agreement with Nestea to focus their attention on Fuze – which so far has left consumers upset since Nestea is not as broadly available.  Fuze also appears to have failed to expectations given consumers still prefer Nestea.  Has Coca-Cola been supporting Fuze with the appropriate level of marketing?  This indicates that while in-house products (Fuze, smartwater) may offer better profit margins, licensed products (Nestea, evian) may perform better given a stronger sales record (that was built with Coca-Cola’s distribution network).  Will Coca-Cola look to remove Monster Energy from their distribution infrastructure as well?  While smartwater may have stronger sales than Fuze, the question remains whether smartwater will be able to outperform evian.  If smartwater outsells evian, then Coca-Cola would have benefited from the distribution change-up.  The same logic would apply for all other products that Coca-Cola distributes.

For evian, this change comes at a time when the company is in the midst of introducing new product packaging.  The fact that the premium water brand needs to revitalize their packaging to stay competitive is disheartening.  This is a sign that evian must re-align some aspects of their product (this time it’s the packaging) in order to re-communicate the product benefits to the consumers.  With distribution changes occurring simultaneously, the impact is amplified and more detrimental. Consumers looking to repurchase evian waters may find fewer selection in addition to not recognizing the 14-year-old evian plastic bottle.  Retailers may be less confident in evian, observing so much change in such a short time.  However, Red Bull is a strong partner and is building up their own distribution network.  With the partnership agreement ending in July 2014, this still gives evian a little time to build more infrastructure to replace Coca-Cola’s footprint.  evian appears to be disadvantaged in this new arrangement, given the fragmented nature of their distribution system.  Even if evian could establish the same footprint as before, they still must compete against smartwater for shelf space given the opposite sales trends of these two premium water brands.  Still, evian is part of The Danone Group and would be able to leverage the strength of their yogurt distribution network.  Possibly weaker distribution, but evian should be none the worse off.

Courtesy of asiantrader.biz
Courtesy of asiantrader.biz

For Red Bull, this is an opportunity for them to improve their business through new opportunities.  While their innovation track record outside of energy drinks has been poor, the sales of their energy drinks has been steady and growing.  The fact that the energy drink manufacturer has returned to their roots among product innovation, they have also been creative to find new revenue-growing opportunities.  This is where distribution becomes that great growth opportunity.  As they deliver energy drinks to their retail customers, they can now satisfy more of the retailer’s beverage needs by bringing them evian as well.  While evian is the first manufacturer to explore product delivery through Red Bull, there are other product manufacturers that may leverage Red Bull’s distribution infrastructure in the future.  If Red Bull can expertly manage the evian distribution relationship and help the premium water brand regain sales momentum, then Red Bull stands to have many other growth opportunities in the future.

It would appear that Red Bull and Coca-Cola have more upside than evian in this new arrangement, but upside nonetheless.  It would also be important for other beverage manufacturers to take notice of what is happening here.  Would evian be better off approaching Pepsi to see if they can leverage a partnership with them?  And if you’re Monster Energy, this offers short term gains with more truck space.  Question is, will Coca-Cola one day end their distribution agreement to focus on Nos and other Coca-Cola owned energy drinks?

Pepsi Launches Liquid Enhancers: Aquafina FlavorSplash

The new Aquafina FlavorSplash line-up: sparkling water and liquid enhancers.  Courtesy of facebook.com
The new Aquafina FlavorSplash line-up: sparkling water and liquid enhancers. Courtesy of facebook.com

It’s been a few years after Kraft MiO revolutionized flavor enhancers, but Pepsi has finally launched their own liquid enhancers under the Aquafina water brand.  Following a beverage portfolio evaluation that lasted nearly 12 months, Pepsi will overhaul Aquafina FlavorSplash to include new sparkling water flavors and liquid enhancers.  On the liquid enhancer front, they will have three offerings: So Strawberry, Berry On, and World Peach.  Pepsi’s offerings are targeted toward a younger demographic primarily aged 13-19 years old (more on that later).  After waiting so long to enter this beverage segment, will Pepsi see success?

With another household name entering the segment – be it Pepsi or Aquafina – liquid enhancers as a segment benefits from more media support.  Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi has their own distribution network as well as their own merchandising and cooler units.  Having your own branded equipment assets are important for consistent communication, and even more crucial to ensure flawless execution.  As we have seen Powerade Zero Drops and Dasani Drops merchandised within Coca-Cola coolers, we can expect Pepsi to do the same with Aquafina FlavorSplash droplets.  This will help Pepsi get prime location space within grocery channels and restaurant establishments to display their newest products.

Aquafina FlavorSplash Berry On flavor.  Courtesy of facebook.com
Aquafina FlavorSplash Berry On flavor. Courtesy of facebook.com

By targeting a younger demographic, Pepsi aims to introduce consumers to their beverages at earlier life stages.  While appealing to the product’s purchaser (moms) is a different challenge, Pepsi hopes teens will be able to influence the purchase decision.  If not, Aquafina FlavorSplash may be something teens can still buy in school.  AdAge’s article detailing the Aquafina FlavorSplash interviews Pepsi’s CMO Simon Lowden, which describes the possibility at getting Aquafina FlavorSplash stocked in high schools as well (article link here).  The younger demographic puts Pepsi’s liquid enhancer in a niche where no other competitive liquid enhanced is targeting.  So far, young adults, athletes, and tea drinkers have been the general target.

The product packaging itself will spur interest, as the candy-colored packaging is brightly colored that will attract the demographic’s attention.  With unique flavor names – unlike the many berry-pomegranates and mango-peaches on the shelf – the flavors should stand out among the competitive set as well.

As a new player enters the segment, retailers and consumers will benefit from all the healthy competition for their dollars and chance to quench their thirst.  Pepsi will see success within this segment, given messaging toward an audience where no other brand is explicitly communicating toward, their own equipment assets that allow for prime product placement opportunities, and a product that is on part with market trends.  Even with all the competition within the liquid enhancer landscape – Kraft, Dasani, Powerade Zero, Crystal Light, and Nestea to name but a few – Pepsi’s Aquafina FlavorSplash should be able to garner healthy sales.

Nestea Enters Crowded Liquid Enhancers Space

Nestea's Liquid Water Enhancer - image courtesy of bevnet.com
Nestea’s Liquid Water Enhancer – image courtesy of bevnet.com

It seems that Nestea is primed to enter the liquid enhancers space soon (link here).  In a segment that grows increasingly crowded with strong brand names like Kraft MiO, Crystal Light Liquid, Dasani Drops, Powerade Zero Drops, is this the right decision by Nestea to enter with their own liquid enhancer?  Aside from the well-known branded players, a host of grocery retailers already have their own store brand (per this BevReview article, Walmart, Supervalu and Winn-Dixie all have their own versions).  Can this beverage segment sustain another branded player?  With various offerings available and finite space in the grocery aisle, will this launch actually be beneficial?  It depends on who you talk to.

First, let’s take a look at what Nestea is introducing to the marketplace.  Nestea Liquid Water Enhancer will arrive exclusively to Target in three flavors:  Iced Tea with Lemon, Iced Tea with Peach and Half & Half Iced Tea.  Another flavor will hit the rest of the market afterwards: Green Tea Citrus.  The Nestea Liquid Water Enhancers will be available in 26-serving bottles.  Because there is no other tea-based liquid enhancer in the marketplace, the Nestea product is unique and certainly adds value to the grocery aisle.  The consumer will now be able to find their Nestea drink mixes in both powder and liquid formats.  So Nestea benefits from this product launch, giving themselves a broader consumer reach.  Now that Nestea has a unique product, they just need to go and “sell” it to the grocery retailer that their product is beneficial for them too.

Retailers, however, may interpret this as more of a headache than anything.  With liquid enhancers expanding so rapidly, it looks like manufacturers just want to launch a product and get in on the gold rush.  With another product added to the overall consideration set, the retailers must decide which ones to carry and help them grow their business.  Do they maintain the same space in the grocery aisle for these products?  Or should they rationalize some other products?  The retailer may simply pass the problem on to manufacturers, and have them create the most compelling sell story to gain retailer distribution.  What may ensue should certainly benefit consumers and retailers: manufacturers will undoubtedly be offering some form of pricing and promotional support to get them to take their product in-store.

Coca-Cola's Powerade Zero Drops - image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com
Coca-Cola’s Powerade Zero Drops – image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com

For liquid enhancers and the consumer, Nestea’s entry is a positive addition.  Nestea’s entry carves out a niche for tea-based liquid enhancers, similar to how Powerade Zero Drops and MiO Fit created the sports niche.  Despite further fragmenting liquid enhancers into more beverage segments, this launch will be beneficial to the category.  As more marketing dollars get behind liquid enhancers, this may spell opportunity for even more product launches.  If consumers are willing to mix water with enhancers for caffeine, electrolytes, and tea, what else may they be interested in?  How about juices?  Or carbonated soda?  In due time, consumers may be able to find liquid enhancers for any beverage that is currently available in can or bottle format.

While the Nestea launch further crowds the liquid enhancer market, it still benefits everyone.  Consumers get another liquid enhancer choice.  Nestea improve their consumer reach.  And retailers linking these two groups together will be rewarded with more profits.

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.