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Round-Up - NPD: The Clear Soft Drink Trend is Back

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Don’t look now, but one of the most memorable and controversial trends in soft drinks from the 1980s and 1990s – clear soft drinks – is staging a comeback. And, some of the iconic clear soft drinks of the period, including Original New York Seltzer, Clearly Canadian and maybe even Crystal Pepsi are leading the charge.

Few soft drink trends have generated as much curiosity, controversy and notoriety as clear soft drinks did in the late-20th Century. Original New York Seltzer – one of the first 'cult' soft drink brands – tapped nostalgia for tasty seltzers from an earlier time and showed that colour was not a necessity for flavour-packed CSDs. Together with Clearly Canadian – a clear soft drink that came in teardrop-shaped bottles – Original New York Seltzer turbocharged a trend that captured the imagination of consumers and eventually bubbled up to the top of the soft drink world.

But, the launch of Coca-Cola’s Tab Clear and PepsiCo’s Crystal Pepsi in the early 1990s came just as clear soft drinks were fizzing out, leading industry pundits to label clear soft drinks a passing fad.

Was the 'fad' reputation overly harsh for clear soft drinks? Maybe the drinks were just too far ahead of their time, as a mini-revival is currently taking place in the clear soft drinks world.

Original New York Seltzer is back, albeit without the brand’s infamous live tiger and the flamboyance of its father and son team of Alan and Randy Miller (who actually jumped from a ten-storey building onto an air bag to promote the brand back in the day). Ryan Marsh, president of the new Original New York Seltzer, calls the brand a "boutique brand with a mission" and part of that mission is bringing clear soft drinks to a new generation of consumers.

Older generations will remember this was the brand that went from a handful of sales in mom-and-pop stores in 1982 to 1m cases a month just four years later.

Like the 1980s version of Original New York Seltzer, the new version is free of artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. The packaging is nearly identical to the original and the brand is debuting in six cane sugar-sweetened flavours from its glory days – peach, raspberry, vanilla cream, lemon & lime, root beer and black cherry. Internet distribution complements a six-state roll-out that includes California, Oregon, and Michigan. Distribution will expand from there to six more states including New York and New Jersey with full national distribution a goal.

At roughly the same time, Clearly Canadian is also back (in the US and Canada, at least) thanks to a successful crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo that generated pre-orders for 25,000 cases of product and over US$800,000 in revenue. Clearly Canadian ceased production in 2009 and declared bankruptcy a year later; a stunning collapse for a brand that boasted sales of $150m as recently as 1992.

Venture capitalist Robert Khan resurrected the brand after being dumbfounded (his words) that it was up for grabs. Clearly Canadian’s crowdfunding effort received a big helping hand from YouTube video stars Rhett & Link who staged a pre-order campaign in late-2014 that helped the brand achieve its 25,000 case sales goal.

Clearly Canadian will be relaunched in its original, teardrop-shaped packaging and will come in just four flavours to start – wild cherry, orchard peach, mountain blackberry and country raspberry. All will feature simple, all-natural ingredients like Canadian spring water, pure cane sugar and natural flavouring.

Production of the new Clearly Canadian commenced last month, and Ontario, Canada-based Clearly Food & Beverage Co plans to launch the brand into stores in early-2016. The method the company will use to determine distribution is closely tied to the brand’s crowdfunding campaign.

Clearly Food & Beverage is splitting the US and Canada into nine zones and will focus 'on-the-ground' distribution in the strongest online sales zones. The brand also plans to crowdsource flavour development (assuming future sales goals are met) by letting its original Indiegogo backers vote on the selection and eventual release of a new flavour to the Clearly Canadian line-up.

Closely watching these developments, PepsiCo is hinting that a revival of Crystal Pepsi could be near. Responding to one of Crystal Pepsi’s biggest fans, competitive eating and social media star Kevin Strahle, who has made it his life’s goal to bring back Crystal Pepsi, the company tantalisingly said that he and his followers would "be happy with what’s in store". A PepsiCo spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the message and added to speculation by saying that Crystal Pepsi fans would be happy with what the company has planned.

Nostalgia can only go so far, but signs point to broader support for clear soft drinks that extends beyond mere nostalgia as newer brands 'go clear'. Zevia zero calorie soda recently reformulated by removing caramel colour as part of a clean label initiative. By the end of June, the brand’s soft drink flavours – cola, ginger root beer, ginger ale, Dr Zevia and cream soda – will all go clear with no caramel colour and Non-GMO Project Verified formulations. The company says that it is "raising the bar" and "charting a bold new direction for the soda
category", noting that "Non-GMO Project Verified soda without colour is the future".

Something certainly appears to be brewing in transparent soft drinks. Beverage Marketing Corp recently reported that American consumption of unsweetened seltzer jumped 29% for the five-year period to the end of 2013 versus a 7% drop in CSD sales over the same period. Remarkably, this sales advance happened without a major advertising push. Consumers may be falling out of love with CSDs, but they still have a sweet spot for carbonated drinks and unsweetened seltzers seem to fit the bill.

The sweetened versus unsweetened divide currently separates the two paths of this revived trend and could determine how things will play out in the longer term. Consumers are conflicted about sugar and artificial sweeteners. According to Datamonitor Consumer’s 2015 ingredients survey, 29.4% of consumers globally think aspartame will have a negative impact on health, while 35.5% say the same about high fructose corn syrup and 51.1% concur about sugar. Clear drinks that are as sweet as the colourful soft drinks they replace are not going to allay these concerns.

Food colours are also an issue, but not on the same level as sugar. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2015 Food & Health Survey, 54% of American consumers say they are trying to limit or avoid entirely the consumption of added sugars. In comparison, 21% say they are trying to do the same for food colours.

This says that clear soft drinks may have a place at the table, but sugar concerns will likely determine how long they keep that place.

Don’t look now, but one of the most memorable and controversial trends in soft drinks from the 1980s and 1990s – clear soft drinks – is staging a comeback. And, some of the iconic clear soft drinks of the period, including Original New York Seltzer, Clearly Canadian and maybe even Crystal Pepsi are leading the charge.

Few soft drink trends have generated as much curiosity, controversy and notoriety as clear soft drinks did in the late-20th Century. Original New York Seltzer – one of the first 'cult' soft drink brands – tapped nostalgia for tasty seltzers from an earlier time and showed that colour was not a necessity for flavour-packed CSDs. Together with Clearly Canadian – a clear soft drink that came in teardrop-shaped bottles – Original New York Seltzer turbocharged a trend that captured the imagination of consumers and eventually bubbled up to the top of the soft drink world.

But, the launch of Coca-Cola’s Tab Clear and PepsiCo’s Crystal Pepsi in the early 1990s came just as clear soft drinks were fizzing out, leading industry pundits to label clear soft drinks a passing fad.

Was the 'fad' reputation overly harsh for clear soft drinks? Maybe the drinks were just too far ahead of their time, as a mini-revival is currently taking place in the clear soft drinks world.

Original New York Seltzer is back, albeit without the brand’s infamous live tiger and the flamboyance of its father and son team of Alan and Randy Miller (who actually jumped from a ten-storey building onto an air bag to promote the brand back in the day). Ryan Marsh, president of the new Original New York Seltzer, calls the brand a "boutique brand with a mission" and part of that mission is bringing clear soft drinks to a new generation of consumers.

Older generations will remember this was the brand that went from a handful of sales in mom-and-pop stores in 1982 to 1m cases a month just four years later.

Like the 1980s version of Original New York Seltzer, the new version is free of artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. The packaging is nearly identical to the original and the brand is debuting in six cane sugar-sweetened flavours from its glory days – peach, raspberry, vanilla cream, lemon & lime, root beer and black cherry. Internet distribution complements a six-state roll-out that includes California, Oregon, and Michigan. Distribution will expand from there to six more states including New York and New Jersey with full national distribution a goal.

At roughly the same time, Clearly Canadian is also back (in the US and Canada, at least) thanks to a successful crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo that generated pre-orders for 25,000 cases of product and over US$800,000 in revenue. Clearly Canadian ceased production in 2009 and declared bankruptcy a year later; a stunning collapse for a brand that boasted sales of $150m as recently as 1992.

Venture capitalist Robert Khan resurrected the brand after being dumbfounded (his words) that it was up for grabs. Clearly Canadian’s crowdfunding effort received a big helping hand from YouTube video stars Rhett & Link who staged a pre-order campaign in late-2014 that helped the brand achieve its 25,000 case sales goal.

Clearly Canadian will be relaunched in its original, teardrop-shaped packaging and will come in just four flavours to start – wild cherry, orchard peach, mountain blackberry and country raspberry. All will feature simple, all-natural ingredients like Canadian spring water, pure cane sugar and natural flavouring.

Production of the new Clearly Canadian commenced last month, and Ontario, Canada-based Clearly Food & Beverage Co plans to launch the brand into stores in early-2016. The method the company will use to determine distribution is closely tied to the brand’s crowdfunding campaign.

Clearly Food & Beverage is splitting the US and Canada into nine zones and will focus 'on-the-ground' distribution in the strongest online sales zones. The brand also plans to crowdsource flavour development (assuming future sales goals are met) by letting its original Indiegogo backers vote on the selection and eventual release of a new flavour to the Clearly Canadian line-up.

Closely watching these developments, PepsiCo is hinting that a revival of Crystal Pepsi could be near. Responding to one of Crystal Pepsi’s biggest fans, competitive eating and social media star Kevin Strahle, who has made it his life’s goal to bring back Crystal Pepsi, the company tantalisingly said that he and his followers would "be happy with what’s in store". A PepsiCo spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the message and added to speculation by saying that Crystal Pepsi fans would be happy with what the company has planned.

Nostalgia can only go so far, but signs point to broader support for clear soft drinks that extends beyond mere nostalgia as newer brands 'go clear'. Zevia zero calorie soda recently reformulated by removing caramel colour as part of a clean label initiative. By the end of June, the brand’s soft drink flavours – cola, ginger root beer, ginger ale, Dr Zevia and cream soda – will all go clear with no caramel colour and Non-GMO Project Verified formulations. The company says that it is "raising the bar" and "charting a bold new direction for the soda
category", noting that "Non-GMO Project Verified soda without colour is the future".

Something certainly appears to be brewing in transparent soft drinks. Beverage Marketing Corp recently reported that American consumption of unsweetened seltzer jumped 29% for the five-year period to the end of 2013 versus a 7% drop in CSD sales over the same period. Remarkably, this sales advance happened without a major advertising push. Consumers may be falling out of love with CSDs, but they still have a sweet spot for carbonated drinks and unsweetened seltzers seem to fit the bill.

The sweetened versus unsweetened divide currently separates the two paths of this revived trend and could determine how things will play out in the longer term. Consumers are conflicted about sugar and artificial sweeteners. According to Datamonitor Consumer’s 2015 ingredients survey, 29.4% of consumers globally think aspartame will have a negative impact on health, while 35.5% say the same about high fructose corn syrup and 51.1% concur about sugar. Clear drinks that are as sweet as the colourful soft drinks they replace are not going to allay these concerns.

Food colours are also an issue, but not on the same level as sugar. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2015 Food & Health Survey, 54% of American consumers say they are trying to limit or avoid entirely the consumption of added sugars. In comparison, 21% say they are trying to do the same for food colours.

This says that clear soft drinks may have a place at the table, but sugar concerns will likely determine how long they keep that place.


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