The blurred lines of drinks categories - Comment
Harvest Hill Beverage Co's Juicy Juice Teasers blend fruit juice with decaffeinated tea
This month, soft drinks commentator Ray Rowlands takes a look at the intriguing world of cross-over beverages.
Last month, I mentioned the somewhat novel approach that two Finnish soft drink producers, Eckes Granini Finland and Valio, have recently taken by adding slight carbonation to their carton-packed juice drinks. The CO2 content in these products is very minimal; it has to be, to prevent the packages from exploding.
At the same time, its usage has created a radically new beverage concept. Of course, these are not the only players who have thought "outside the box" in order to create a point of difference for their products, or to regenerate a spark in a waning market.
Hybrid products that cross established category boundaries are not new, but they are gaining traction. They have often appealed to more adventurous consumers, those who desire new flavour experiences. Today, they attract a much wider audience when they attempt to cater to the growing health and wellness trend by lowering calorie intake.
It should be remembered, of course, that these cross-over beverages are not confined to just soft drinks, they extend into the dairy (juice/milk mixes) and alcohol (Tequila-flavoured beer) categories. Indeed, someone has even created a coffee/tea fusion using the outer peel of the sun-dried coffee cherry, which is then brewed in a similar fashion to tea.
Returning to more familiar ground, energy drinks spin-offs have been a key focus of attention. Take the case of carbonated SunnyD X which Sunny Delight Beverages launched in the US two years ago. It was introduced as an alternative to more run-of-the-mill energy drinks. It contained no caffeine or taurine and its 'energy' was derived from a combination of three carbohydrates plus seven B-vitamins. Unfortunately, the concept of an energy drink that lacked the key elements of caffeine and taurine did not fire up the imagination of energy-craving teens. I am not sure that the brand ever got past its pilot launch: Its high sugar content would certainly not meet with current consumer approval.
Energy waters, on the other hand, maintain the charisma of energy drinks whilst reducing calorie content. AG Barr's Rockstar Energy Water, launched in the UK at the beginning of last year, claims to deliver the same level of energy - but with 50% less sugar - than standard Rockstar. Thus, the extension offered appeal to existing energy drink fans whilst broadening the target audience to include those with a healthier disposition – by providing the same kick, but with fewer calories.
Other producers obviously see similar opportunities in this direction, such as Blink Beverages whose website has the witty description of its energy water being like "a cup of coffee, but without the brown taste and colour". HyDrive Energy Water offers a similar caffeine/low calorie proposition to the Rockstar hybrid, while POW Energy Water has joined the coconut water bandwagon by providing a coconut & lime variant in its flavour range.
Of course, such products are still fairly novel at the moment and sales are small: In the UK, we are talking about thousands of litres rather than millions. But, they certainly add a new slant to the energy drinks - or perhaps I should say enhanced water - market.
Energy drinks have morphed in other directions as well. Older readers may recall Vault, a caffeine-loaded carbonated drink introduced in the US by Coca-Cola in 2005 with the tagline "Drinks like a Soda, Kicks like an Energy Drink". The brand has been shelved since the company bought into Monster Beverage Corp in 2014, but in its heyday it hit annual sales of US$70m. Then there was Jolt Cola. a caffeinated Cola from the 1980s that is also no more. For sure, the brand's original marketing slogan of "all the sugar and twice the caffeine" would not go down too well today. Or, perhaps energy drinks and sodas just don't mix?
Iced coffee has been another target for energy drink diversification. Take the example of V, owned by Suntory, and the top-selling energy drink in both Australia and New Zealand. In 2014, the brand branched out with V Double Espresso, laced with a hit of guarana, and designed to have as much caffeine as a double espresso coffee. The market potential is certainly there: Although the iced coffee market is small in New Zealand, per capita consumption in Australia is 15 times higher than the West European average, according to beverage analysts Canadean.
Ready-to-drink tea has also been a major focal point for product transformation and, yes, energy drinks have crept in here too. Arizona Beverage Corp, which owns the namesake iced tea brand in the US, brought out RX Energy a few years ago. Then there's Gold Peak Lemonade Tea, which Coca-Cola released last year, not forgetting Lipton Sparkling Green Tea from 2009. Are these RTD teas or lightly-carbonated sodas? Then, there are iced tea flavoured squashes, such as Bickfords Peach Tea cordial in Australia and, only a couple of months ago, Harvest Hill Beverage Co's Juicy Juice Teasers, comprising a blend of fruit juice and decaffeinated tea.
Probably the only standard soft drinks category that has yet to become a target for cross-over beverage development is bottled water. But then, bottled water is not so plain and simple these days. Flavoured variants aside, we now have tree sap waters, glacier water, cactus water and, of course, coconut water.
Hybrid beverages certainly add choice, but their complex identities also proffer confusion for the overwhelmed consumer. Let us also not forget the beleaguered retailer, who has to determine just where to position such products on the shelf.
Going forwards, the situation can only become more challenging, as the matrix of products on offer becomes ever more prolific, in order to motivate public demand and invigorate sales.
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