SunnyD X is has been given a test launch in select US markets

SunnyD X is has been given a test launch in select US markets

Ray Rowlands of Drinksinfo Ltd takes a trip down memory lane to look at an iconic juice drinks brand of the 1990s - Sunny Delight. He charts its progress up to the present day, including its latest venture into the energy drinks arena.

I have just read that Sunny Delight Beverages Company has launched a new carbonated juice based "alternative" energy drink. This is a relatively new course for the company, though it did recently partner with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group for the US launch of a fruit flavoured carbonated water called Sparkling Fruit2O.

However, most people will be more familiar with the company’s Sunny Delight juice drink, or Sunny D as it is more widely known. Now that is a brand with a colourful, some might say infamous, past. You may remember that its heydays were in the 1990s, a decade that saw the release of Nelson Mandela and the collapse of the USSR.

It was also a time when estimated global sales of Sunny Delight exceeded a billion litres. That was quite an achievement in its own right. I am not aware of even renowned brands such as Ocean Spray and Glaceau having reached that watershed volume yet. 

Sunny Delight has had something of a chequered history, interlaced with a raft of owners. The brand was born in 1963, the brainchild of Florida-based Howard Dick and Phil Grinnell, and was sold to the US Coca-Cola bottling operation three years later. It subsequently moved across to Proctor & Gamble and thereafter blazed an expansion trail which began in Canada before racing across the Atlantic into Europe.

Launched in the UK in the spring of 1998 Sunny Delight was an instant hit. Within mere months of its arrival it had become the biggest selling soft drink in the UK behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi cola. That’s no mean feat in anyone’s book.

It was marketed as a healthy alternative to mainstream soft drinks, thereby gaining parental seal of approval. Supported by advertising that employed the slogan 'the great stuff kids go for', it was also a big favourite with children. Supermarkets often found that they could not keep up with demand. Yet the brand was not quite what it seemed. Though ambient, it was sold in refrigerated cabinets to give the impression it was chilled, moreover it only contained 5% juice, plus a lot of sugar. 

It was only a matter of time before the rot set in, triggered by reports that a four year-old Welsh girl, who had allegedly been drinking 1.5 litres of Sunny Delight a day, had turned yellow. This condition was induced by the brand’s beta carotene content, which was added for colour. The volumes she was consuming was twice the recommended daily adult intake and consumption on this scale was way too high for a young child. 

Then things went from bad to worse for the brand.

The Food Commission, an independent UK watchdog, started to question what was actually in the drink. In tandem with this, the Health  Education Authority commenced a campaign outlining the fact that Sunny Delight was a sweetened  fruit drink rather than real juice. The assault against the brand was not confined to just one side of the Atlantic. 

A combination of US organisations also campaigned against the perceived marketing of "Sunny D" as a healthy alternative to fruit juice. Such damning publicity hit its mark. It was reported that sales of Sunny Delight in the UK in 2001 had dived by 35%. Demand in France, Spain and North America also began to slump. But health campaigns were not the only factor at work here; rival drinks, such as Britvic Juice Up, began to be marketed with a stress on their low sugar and high juice content. 

In an attempt to escape from the quagmire, Procter & Gamble launched a new set of Sunny Delight flavours containing only natural sugars whilst raising the juice level to 15%. However, sales failed to improve much and the brand continued to face a barrage of criticism. As consumers began to lose faith, Sunny Delight was sold in 2004 to J. W. Childs Associates, a Boston-based private equity firm.

Sunny Delight Beverages Company was born that year. Further makeovers for its flaghsip brand, including a cut in the calorie count, followed but it never recaptured its full former glory. 

And so we come back to the present day. Just weeks after the announcement that Sunny Delight Beverages Company had teamed up with SodaStream, the US company has launched its latest product, called SunnyD X. Unlike other brands in the company portfolio, such as Elations, Veryfine and Fruit2O, it is interesting to see that this latest release carries the Sunny D name tag. 

SunnyD X is something of a hybrid product, described as a carbonated juice drink alternative for people seeking energy drinks. Available in a 47.3cl can it does not contain any caffeine, but offers a different type of pick me up via a combination of three carbohydrates, as well as seven B vitamins to help metabolise the carbohydrates into energy. Well that is different I suppose. 

However, I am not so sure that the concept of an energy drink without caffeine or even taurine will fire up the imagination of energy craving teens. Personally I think the company has more mileage in its new link up with Sodastream. Still, I can but wish it all the best.