Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - NPD in Europe in 2013: And the Winner is…
Ahead of the Oscars, due to be handed out in just over a month's time, Richard Corbett has some gongs of his own to hand out. In recognition of the best new soft drinks products in 2013, who will win a Corbett?
Welcome to the Richard Corbett European Innovation Awards for 2013. Unfortunately, my glamorous assistant can’t be with me tonight to hand out the awards, so it will once again be just me. I am also the judging panel and due to tight budgets, the trophies are again in the form of the warm glow of recognition.
Without innovation in soft drinks we would all be still be drinking water; that might be good news for the likes of Danone and Nestle, but would make work in the industry less appealing for the rest of us. New Product Development is what keeps the soft drink sector fresh, exciting and interesting, whether that new product becomes the next Red Bull or Innocent smoothie, or the next Danone Activ.
As you might expect, there has been a strong stevia theme in Europe in 2013. The natural sweetener has only been permitted in the European Union since late-2011, and one report I have seen suggests that up to 40% of the new soft drinks products launched in the region last year have incorporated stevia – although this does seem a little high.
The natural credentials of stevia are very attractive to operators as consumers grow suspicious of artificial sweeteners; artificial is very much out of fashion. There are a lot of pluses for stevia, but sadly taste is not one of them. The taste handicap means that stevia is most suited to citrus products, red fruits, fruit juices and colas. We are also seeing a lot of iced teas and squashes adopting stevia. In France, stevia-based products are exempt from the new tax on soft drinks introduced in 2012; this has incentivised NPD in this area. Last year, both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola introduced high-profile, stevia-sweetened products into the country: the former brought Pepsi Next to market, while Coca-Cola launched a newly-formulated version of Sprite. The Sprite version has subsequently benefited from a wider European launch.
Flavour and taste is always a key focus of innovation in soft drinks, and I would describe 2013 as the year of the coconut in Europe, as the soft drinks industry anticipates a surge in interest in coconut waters, replicating that in the US. Imported brands like O.N.E, Vita Coco and Zico have gained an increasing presence on European shelves. Meanwhile, a number of European juice, nectar and still drink brands have incorporated coconut variants into their brands, and some new coconut products have been launched. MySmoothie has introduced MyCoco, which looks to be well-positioned to capitalise on any coconut boom in North Europe. In the UK, Iconiq’s Icoco goes down the charitable route, donating GBP0.02 for every carton sold. I also think cherry and vanilla coconut water is very pioneering. I would also highlight the Dutch brand Hero’s 50% coconut water & 50% juice, which is reportedly performing very strongly.
The award for the most eccentric flavour introduction of the year is keenly contested this year.
Swedish operator Spendrups can consider itself unlucky not to win following the introduction of a new range of sparkling water flavours for the Loka brand, which includes chocolate milk shake, lemon pie and strawberries & ice cream flavours - a gingerbread flavour was also added later in the year. AG Barr was also not far off winning with its Barr Bubblegum CSD, which has sold well in the UK.
My winner however is the extraordinary ‘Fuel’ Breakfast drink from the UK which incorporates a traditional English breakfast into a 33cl carton. Drinkers can enjoy the taste of of two rashers of streaky bacon, one grilled Cumberland sausage, a poached egg, two fried tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, brown toast, salt, pepper and brown sauce all in liquid form. Not surprisingly, the drink is aimed at people who skip breakfast.
My award for the most superpremium new product of the year in Europe is given to the short-lived German energy drink, WTF?. A 20cl bottle of this ultra-deluxe drink would have set you back as much as EUR7.39 (US$10) or EUR36.95 for 1 litre – you would probably need a pick-me-up after spending that much - but the drink did incorporate gold flakes in the ingredients. The product had ambitious plans to launch in the US, but unfortunately fell foul of European food laws that do not allow gold in food, and had to be delisted.
Now that the more light-hearted prizes have been doled out, its time for the big one: The 2013 European Innovation prize. In second place is Red Bull and its three new flavours; Blue (Blueberry), Red (cranberry) and Silver (lime). While they were not launched in 2013, the three were introduced to a number of new European markets during the year. Standard Red Bull’s flavour has often been cited as an issue for the brand and the new flavours address these concerns head on: Red Bull now tastes good. The new flavours have already gained significant listings in markets where the parent brand is present and will have helped brand Red Bull to grow volumes significantly in the future, despite some expected cannibalisation with the original product.
My winner for 2013 is … hush, please … SodaStream.
The company has been incredibly innovative in 2013 with new machine designs and not only offers traditional syrups for carbonates, but also sells water essences and energy drink syrups. In France, the company launched the syrup in an eye-catching 5.2cl plastic cap that produces as much as 1 litre. The company has reinvented itself and has re-launched into a number of markets during the year including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany.
SodaStream is back on the map and its rising presence in the region is yielding dividends, with the company announcing that the West Europe region is a star performer worldwide with sales up by 43% in its third quarter.
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