Has anyone noticed the subtle changes to the low-calorie vitaminwater lineup in Canada? There used to be three vitaminwater10 variants available: go-go, resilient-c, and recoup. Now they have quietly replaced the go-go and resilient-c 10 calorie offerings with zero calorie offerings. The recoup (peach mandarin) doesn’t appear to be on the market anymore, in favor of a zero calorie version of XXX, renamed as XOXOXO (acai-blueberry-pomegranate). It appears that the United States’ transition in December 2010 has finally made its way north of the border this past April. As it stands right now, there are 9 regular calorie flavors of vitaminwater, along with the three new low-calorie offerings.
One has to wonder why glaceau did not simply launch the zero-calorie offerings from day one, rather than wait a year to eliminate the 10 calories inside the bottle. How did the 10 calories get eliminated after a few months’ launch into Canada? Was it fear that Canadians would not adapt to the zero calories right away and needed to be transitioned away from calorie-filled beverages? Was there a delay in getting approvals on the ingredients, particularly the sweetener? In any case, the complete Canadian vitaminwater line-up still stands at 12 flavors.
Having 12 flavors makes it challenging to manage the product portfolio. The benefit of this vitaminwater zero transition is that it will not impact the overall shelf spacing – only the existing area that vitaminwater product occupies. However, 12 flavors for any product is quite significant, and getting a retailer to list all 12 at the same time will certainly be difficult. Take for example Red Bull, which has found success with only three variations (Red Bull, Sugar Free Red Bull, and Red Bull Total Zero). Or Coca-Cola, which also has three offerings (Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero). Both these brands have fewer flavors and have been very successful. Monster Energy and Rockstar Energy are also successful as a result of their broad portfolio of products – but not all products get listed in the retailer. The most successful brands have fewer variations and can command more shelf space. They also tend to be leaders in their respective categories. vitaminwater seems to be buck that trend.
Is vitaminwater a leader in the enhanced or flavored waters category? Sales data would almost guarantee it as such. Why would they need so many flavors, when traditionally four or five flavors will be enough? The answer is portfolio shelf space relative to sales. If the vitaminwater portfolio commands 40% of the category sales, they should be allocated 40% shelf space. After all, the argument is that the cooler space should reflect market conditions for the consumer. This is why in the summer there are less shelf space allocated to juices, but more to water and sports drinks. Having a broader portfolios always gives you more opportunities to create shelf space and in turn sales. Just look at how Gatorade has been able to gain more shelf space following its prime/perform/recover extensions. So while the majority of sales may come from the most popular flavors, the less popular flavors also have a significant role to play in creating and extending shelf space for the vitaminwater total portfolio. Imagine that the sale for one vitaminwater flavor was marginal relative to the total portfolio, but had two shelf facings. That flavor still remains on shelf to “hold space” for other better performing flavors, and allow the retailer to reduce that flavor to one facing while increasing facings for another better performing flavor.
Optimizing the shelf space ultimately falls onto the beverage category manager’s responsibility. As long as vitaminwater’s broad portfolio keeps making sales, it makes difficult for other enhanced waters like Aquafina Plus to gain shelf space. Once you secure the shelf space, it’s up to you to structure and space out your products to protect your shelf space.