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Summer Quenchers

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As the weather grows warmer, manufacturers of a variety of soft drinks gear up to tickle the taste buds – and capture the dollars – of thirsty U.S. consumers.  

What will Americans be drinking this summer? A few consumer research reports point the way toward certain trends. Although a recent study conducted by Rasmussen Reports and publicised by the American Beverage Association found that 56 percent of Americans oppose a tax on soft drinks, the Beverage Marketing Corp. noted that per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks has declined for the past 11 years, which groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) attribute to consumers’ growing awareness that non-diet sodas can contribute to weight gain, along with such other factors as the rise of bottled water, high unemployment rates and bans on the sale of soft drinks in schools.

Further, according to a study conducted in February by global advisory firm , LLP, nearly three in four U.S. consumers plan to spend the same or less on nonalcoholic beverages for at least 12 months, with carbonated soft drinks the most affected – almost 25 percent of consumers polled nationwide said they intend to reduce consumption of such beverages, which amounts to a potential $1.3 billion in lost revenue for the category.

Still, when temperatures climb, people reach for cold drinks, so manufacturers of non-carbonated beverages, especially those offering betterfor- you or functional attributes, are well placed to offer soda-avoiding consumers viable and tasty alternatives.

Soft drink giant Coca-Cola is drawing international attention to one of its brands this summer with the launch of the first global marketing campaign for Powerade, which has teamed up with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to feature the sports drink prominently at the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in , South Africa, which kicks off next month and runs through July 11. In addition to being “Chosen by FIFA to Hydrate Players,” Powerade will show off a newly designed sports drink bottle at all of the tournament’s games, while a comprehensive marketing campaign, “Keep Playing,” encompasses an interactive Internet experience for consumers, packaging, point-of-sale materials, and themed merchandise and signage.

"The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in 2010 and an incredible platform for us to showcase the brand to a worldwide audience,” says Mark Greatrex, SVP, still beverages at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. “This is a major milestone for the Powerade brand and an indication of the importance of the sports drink category in our portfolio of beverages.”

The Coca-Cola Co. is one of the long-standing corporate partners of FIFA, with a formal association going back to 1974. 

Other items from Coca-Cola that stand a good chance of satisfying thirsty consumers this summer are new “picnic-friendly” 18.5-fluidounce plastic bottles of Gold Peak Tea in Sweetened, Unsweetened, Diet and Lemon varieties; a nationally launched 59-ounce carafe of Gold Peak Chilled Tea; and Minute Maid Enhanced Chilled and Juice Drinks in 12-fluid- ounce single-serve bottles in Pomegranate Blueberry, Pomegranate Lemonade and Strawberry Kiwi flavors that offer such healthful ingredients as real fruit juices, brainand body-nourishing omega-3/DHA, antioxidant vitamins C and E, and energyboosting yerba mate.  

The Naked Truth

Even as Coca-Cola cranks up its formidable marketing machine, however, the shifting consumer tastes uncovered in the research cited above are affording smaller soft drink manufacturers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the public through unique offerings.

“Consumers are looking for refreshing, all-natural options for the summer and beyond,” notes Brad Armistead, director of marketing at the Naked Juice Co. in Monrovia, Calif. “Naked Juice offers all-natural, 100 percent juices and juice smoothies that are made from the best bare-naked fruits, with no added sugar or preservatives – ever.”

The company recently launched several products that Armistead deems “ideal for the summer,” chief among them Naked Coconut Water, which he describes as “a 100 percent coconut water that is completely all natural, fat-free, cholesterol-free and gluten-free, and has no added sugars or preservatives.” The beverage additionally offers just 60 calories per 11.2-ounce package. According to Armistead, Naked Coconut Water provides “nature’s perfect replenishment of potassium and other electrolytes that you lose on a hot summer day or after a vigorous workout.”

To promote the product, the company has developed Naked Coconut Water displays for supermarket produce sections.

Also New from Naked are Tropical Smoothie With Coconut Water and Peach Guava Smoothie With Coconut Water, which offer 35 percent fewer calories than the company’s regular smoothies, making them “great for swimsuit season,” says Armistead. “By blending our smoothies with coconut water … we’ve reduced the sugars and calories without losing any nutritional value,” he adds.      

At Orangeburg, N.Y.-based New Leaf Brands, a manufacturer of healthy tea-based beverages, the bottom line is how delicious a drink is. “The first thing that people look for is taste,” observes CEO and founder Eric Skae. “They want something that is refreshing but delivers a taste experience that makes them want to come back for more.”

The up-and-coming company has recently expanded its presence across the United States, signing separate distribution agreements placing its ready-to-drink products on shelves in the state of Arizona and in major urban areas of Southern California. Also, through a partnership with Manhattan Beer, the manufacturer plans to double its distribution in the New York metropolitan area in time for summer.

New Leaf, whose best-selling summer flavors have been Green Tea with Plum, White Tea with Strawberry and Blue Tea with Lemon, has three new lemonade varieties coming out this month – Homemade, Black Cherry and Strawberry – along with a “half-and-half” iced tea lemonade the company calls “the Tiger.” “I expect that the lemonades will work very well this summer and may get to the top three [bestselling flavors],” notes Skae, adding that New Leaf ’s sales from 2008 to 2009 grew by more than 40 percent.   

In terms of merchandising, New Leaf concentrates on “[c]ase stacks and pallet displays, typically in the front of the store,” says Skae. “We try and couple this with some sort of multiple purchase such as a four-for-$5 promo,” but the company prefers to tailor particular programs to individual operators. “We believe that our retailers know their business, so we try and work with them,” explains Skae. 

New Drink on the Block

Newcomer Made Beverages, meanwhile, is concentrating on giving consumers “the classics with a twist,” in the words of Allison Cash, VP of marketing at Chicago-based Tenaya, LLC, which this year launched the line of organic blends of fruit juice and green tea.

“Summer is about having fun in all aspects of life – including drinks,” continues Cash. “Fruit flavours and iced teas are perfect summer drinks; they are so good icecold and feel good going down. Water can become boring, so in times of refreshment need, people reach for flavours.”

Among Made’s flavours, which Cash says have already begun generating “significant interest,” are Pomegranate Lemonade, Blueberry Lemonade and Cranberry Limeade. The company plans to run a limited-time offer “to encourage purchase of multiple flavours as well as multiple items – shareable trip to the lake, or [on a] picnic,” adds, noting Made would “refresh [its] merchandising to include … messaging that captures the feelings of summer fun.”

Asked what the company’s summer sales expectations are, Cash responds that she believes that the beverage line will perform “very well,” going on to note that “the mood of the country is lifting a little, and that [leads] to a feeling of contentment and enjoyment, causing people to reach for something fun and refreshing.”     

Keeping it Green

Sustainability is a big message among soft drink companies these days, whether in regard to packaging or other business practices. For instance, Chicagobased Tenaya, LLC has introduced its new line of Made beverages in Ball Corp.’s 16-ounce PET bottles with KHS Plasmax barrier coating. The eight-SKU product line is among the first high-acid, shelf-stable beverages aseptically filled in PET bottles in North America, according to the companies.    

“The entire Tenaya team shares a philosophy and a vision about how to develop products that are better for the earth, good for company and good for people, and we do our part to support the overall health of the environment,” explains Charley Snell, founder of the the company and a onetime executive at USA. “We strive for environmentally friendly production and packaging. To that end, our current products are uniquely created and packaged aseptically to allow for shelfstable storage with no need for preservatives or refrigeration, reducing the environmental impact of shipping and storage. We chose Ball’s Plasmax-coated PET bottles because the bottles are 100 percent recyclable and widely accepted for recycling, and the Plasmax barrier is highly compatible with the aseptic filling process.”

The process removes all organisms that can cause spoilage, without compromising flavour or nutrition. The result is a beverage that can be safely shipped and stored for up to six months, without preservatives or refrigeration. 

Broomfield, Colo.-based Ball is the only PET bottle manufacturer in North America to offer Plasmax, an ultra-thin , commercially proven, transparent, internal silicon oxide barrier coating technology that protects the beverage within the bottle from oxygen ingress, and also prevents the PET from absorbing the sterilising agent used inside the bottles during the aseptic filling process. Unlike many other PET barriers, Plasmax is easily removed during the recycling process and so doesn’t contaminate the recycled product. Finally, because the barrier doesn’t degrade over time, the length of time a bottle can be stored isn’t limited by the barrier material.    

But Made is hardly alone among beverage manufacturers in striving for a healthier planet. “Naked Juice has been committed to the sustainability movement from the beginning, and we have been working to deliver a more earth-friendly juice for years,” says Brad Armistead, director of marketing at the Naked Juice Co. in Monrovia, Calif. “Our efforts include becoming the first nationally distributed brand to transition to 100 percent post-consumer recycled PET bottles (the Naked reNEWabottle) and becoming the first US.-based juice company to team up with the Rainforest Alliance for sustainable fruit procurement. We have also moved into a new, state-of-the-art office headquarters and production facility designed to meet the criteria for LEED certification. The steps we have taken in sustainable sourcing, manufacturing, packaging and partnerships are all part of our ongoing green journey.”