How playing the indulgence card could return CSDs to success - NPD trends

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Carbonated soft drink producers seem to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to sugar. Reformulating drinks with no- or low-calorie sweeteners has not worked out as planned. Smaller-size packages are boosting margins, but at the expense of volume. Apologising for sugar is not working; maybe, going in the opposite direction by celebrating sugar (and indulgence) could produce a different result.

PepsiCo unveiled its BBLz soft drinks concept in July

PepsiCo unveiled its BBLz soft drinks concept in July

That is the premise behind PepsiCo's new BBLz mixology soft drink concept that debuted at the Hersheypark amusement park in Pennsylvania earlier this summer.

BBLz (pronounced 'bubbles') is less a new beverage product than an "elevated and immersive consumer beverage experience" with the main focus being on fun. Rather than treat sugar as a pariah, BBLz goes in totally the opposite direction, actually using candy - perish the thought - as an ingredient. PepsiCo's new interpretation of mixology takes the "soft drink as indulgence" theme to a new extreme, one that playfully turns a soft drink into a customised dessert.

BBLz starts with a round, clear plastic drinking glass that looks more like a Christmas tree ornament than a beverage container. On-site mixologists at Hersheypark create the drink in front of the consumer (thereby adding a theatrical element to the concept), starting with a base of a PepsiCo CSD, including Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Mist Twist. Fun ingredients like popping candy, gummy candy and Hershey candies (Reese's Pieces and Twizzler's Pull 'n' Peel) are then added to a drink which is topped with colourful foam for an artistic creation ideal for social media sharing.

PepsiCo first floated the concept behind BBLz in 2015 when it debuted F!ZZ – a concept proclaimed to represent the future of CSD mixology – at the two-day Maker Faire event in Queens. PepsiCo pitched the idea as a "360-degree immersive experience" featuring a "playful celebration of bubbles with unexpected ingredient combinations" to allow consumers to "deconstruct and reconstruct soda".

F!ZZ slipped out of sight until November last year, when PepsiCo revised the concept (on paper, at least), applying for a patent for BBLz covering "restaurant services" like food or drink offered via a mobile truck or at amusement/theme parks. Then, BBLz emerged in April when Hersheypark began running teaser ads featuring the brand in the same signature drinking glasses associated with the original F!ZZ concept.

So, could mixology make consumers forget about CSDs' negatives, like sugar content and calories? Probably not to any significant degree, but what mixology can do is shift the focus to fun and capitalise on the innate curiosity that consumers exhibit toward experimenting with new flavours. 

Curiosity is the top motivator for flavour experimentation

Curiosity is the top motivator for flavour experimentation. According to a GlobalData survey earlier this year, 44% of consumers globally said that curiosity motivates them to try new flavours or fragrances, more than double the response for the second-most-popular motivator, recommendations by friends and family (17% response).

The desire to "play with flavour" also skews towards the young, which meshes well with the type of consumer that visits amusement parks. Americans aged 25-34 were nearly three times more likely to say that they like to experiment with new and unusual non-alcoholic drink flavours than consumers aged 65+, according to the same GlobalData survey.

The mixology concept for BBLz has another benefit: It transforms a product into a novel consumption experience, one with premium-pricing possibilities (despite the relatively-low-for-a-theme-park $6.99 retail price). A growing body of psychological research says that consumers value experiences more than things. Satisfaction towards experiences also has a tendency to grow over time (think, pleasant vacation memories) while the thrill of acquiring the latest thing (think, quickly-forgotten birthday gifts) tends to decline over time.

Headlines suggesting that Millennials are driving the prioritisation of experiences over things sell short the broad age appeal of experiences. According to the GlobalData survey, 60% of global consumers say they find trying new experiences most exciting, compared to 40% who prefer new products. This lean towards new experiences actually increases with age: 66% of consumers age 65+ say they prefer new experiences, versus 34% that say they prefer new things.

PepsiCo is keeping mum about where BBLz will go from here, but social media postings point to global ambitions. BBLz has been spotted in the Tomorrowland section of Shanghai's Disneyland Park, where the drink comes in flavours like Tomorrowland Twist, which (it says here) is a "fiery cinnamon-flavoured drink infused with the possibilities of the future". Disney's apparent involvement – even from just a distribution angle – suggests broad potential buy-in from theme park operators globally.

No word on the sugar content for this variant, but you can bet that it is probably sky high

Even if it does not grow into a packaged drink line, BBLz could win by suggesting new soft drink consumption experiences, including beverages that take playful aim at meal occasions like breakfast or dessert. For dessert, BBLz offers Whip Scream Sundae, hailed as a "fizzy spin on a sundae" using Pepsi Vanilla and Cherry as a base.

Fizzy Flapjack is another of seven BBLz flavours on offer at Hersheypark and is arguably the most innovative of the lot, seeing as it's a breakfast-themed drink. The odds are high that few have sampled a "brunch in a cup" anything like this one. Fizzy Flapjack starts with Mist Twist apple and orange flavours and blends syrup foam, Hershey's milk chocolate, pancake syrup, mini pancakes, chocolate chips, and bacon in a drink that screams indulgence. No word on the sugar content for this variant, but you can bet that it is probably sky high.

Who says that soft drink innovation has to put health and wellness first? Positioning a soft drink concoction as an occasional indulgence - like dessert - could help establish a viable new niche for a market that is battling decline. Soft drink makers have already made craft sodas a major innovation initiative with products like PepsiCo's own Caleb's Kola, 1893 cola, and Mtn Dew Spiked soft drink. BBLz takes that craft concept and makes it more fun and approachable, especially for younger consumers.

Rolling BBLz out at amusement parks helps 'seal the deal', aligning the indulgent drink concept with amusement park fun and thrill-seeking behaviour. It will be interesting if PepsiCo can take this foodservice concept and capture the same element of fun in a packaged drink.

Sectors: Product launches, Soft drinks, Water

Companies: PepsiCo

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