Less certainly proved to be more in beverage introductions over the course of 2003, with low-sugar launches in nearly all of the segment's sub-categories. Even some energy drinks dropped sugar from their ingredient legends. Furthermore, numerous new products with a low-carbohydrate positioning followed in the wake of Atkins and other carb-conscious diet plans.

By far, the most widely reported low-carb beverages hitting the market were found in the beer category, all mimicking 2002's Michelob Ultra from Anheuser-Busch (St. Louis). To name just a few of the companies lowering carbs in their beer in 2003, there was Labatt (Norwalk, Conn.) with Rock Green Light, Accel from Matt Brewery (Utica, N.Y.) and Martens, a Belgium import by route of Elite Brand Imports (Las Vegas). Coors will join the fray in 2004 with Aspen Edge.

The more adult side of the beverage industry did face a few challenges in 2003, notably in the form of continued efforts to eliminate marketing alcohol to minors. Marketers should note that new federal rules in the works will force alcoholic beverage companies to modify their promotion efforts. In all likelihood, beer, liquor and wine companies will be banned from advertising in media in which more than 30% of the audience is under 21.

Positive news for the segment came from Harvard University (Boston). A study there found that alcohol cuts the risk of diabetes in women. Compared with non-drinkers, women drinking about half a drink to two drinks per day were 58% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Researchers suspect small amounts of alcohol help the body make better use of insulin.

FAB Crunches

Flavored alcoholic beverages (FAB) have not completely fizzled out, but they seem well on their way. Bacardi-Martini (Miami) launched three new Bacardi-brand flavored rums--Razz, with added raspberry flavoring; Vaníla; and Cóco, which has a coconut flavor. Absolut finally joined the FAB fad with Absolut Vanilia, a vanilla-flavored vodka. Another notable FAB came via Allied Domecq Imports (Westport, Conn.)--from the makers of Beefeater. While adding fruit flavor to a spirit may not seem that unusual, this particular pairing may be a surprise: Beefeater Wet is a pear-infused gin.

Turning a controversy into a concept, some new products eschewed the several health cautions warning against mixing alcohol and popular energy drinks. Coca-Cola (Atlanta) tested Blue FX, combining its energy drink, KMX, with Finlandia vodka. Zygo Vodka pursued a slightly different route, opting instead to infuse its vodka with such herbals as guarana, taurine and yerba mate.

In other news involving energy drinks, the products also joined the low-sugar bandwagon. Red Bull (Pacific Palisades, Calif.), in fact, went completely sugar-free for introductions in the U.K. and U.S. The U.K. version offered caffeine and taurine, but was sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame K.

More-positive health news came for those who enjoy wine. A study by Marshall University (Huntington, W. Va.) found that resveratrol, a red-wine compound, destroyed human skin-cancer cells. The polyphenol found in grapes, red wine and peanuts is being tested as a possible anti-cancer drug.

Expanding its target, Heineken (White Plains, N.Y.) began to focus on the Hispanic market with an ad campaign strategy of “speaking to consumers who are knowledgeable about beer.”

With the success of Michelob Ultra, Anheuser-Busch Co. has shifted some of the focus away from the Michelob Light brand. Company executives note the moves are an attempt to solidify Ultra's position in the wake of competition from Coors (Golden, Col.) and Labatt Brewing. Ultra sales were more than triple the company's expectations, moving about 2 million barrels in the last year and capturing about 2.2% of beer sales at U.S. supermarkets and drug stores, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI--Chicago).

Venturing into the water market, Anheuser-Busch may be preparing for a return of 180. Debuting in 2000, 180 was an energy beverage, the company's first non-alcoholic product; however, per an application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 180 Sport will be an “enhanced water beverage,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Such a move would put the brewing giant in direct competition with two beverage giants, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo (Purchase, N.Y.).

Getting an Education

For its part, Coca-Cola might like something to take the focus off the products it markets and sells in schools. Parent and education groups eyed reforms in vending machine offerings across the country, and Coke responded with guidelines for vending sales. According to the rules, carbonated drinks will not be made available in elementary schools during the school day; a range of juices, waters and other drinks will be available wherever sodas are sold; school officials will get to choose the beverages available to students; and vending machine timing devices will be offered so schools can control when products are sold.

One Coke introduction, Swerve, sought to fill the school vending space once occupied by carbonated drinks. Swerve is a milk-based drink made with at least 50% milk, and could only be found in schools at the time of its launch. With the introduction, Coke dropped two trial dairy products, Choglit and Slap.

Sticking to the back-to-school theme for the moment, New York City signed a $166 million deal making Snapple (White Plains, N.Y.) the exclusive provider of drinks in the city's 1,200 schools. The deal also made the company's drinks available in parks and other city facilities.

Meanwhile, back at Coke, the company continues to add flavors to its beverages. Following the success from adding lemon, the company added lime to Diet Coke early this year. Rumors also have circulated that Coke will venture into “mid-calorie” territory by introducing Coke Classic in a lower-calorie variety in the U.S. Furthermore, word has it that the company will re-christen Diet Sprite soon. Sprite Zero would attempt to generate attention for the brand, one of the company's lesser-sellers, and also may involve reformulating it to include a different kind of artificial sweetener.


The Sprite brand did enjoy quite a bit of attention with the launch of Sprite Remix. The beverage is a tropical version of the lemon-lime soft drink.

Coke's chief rival, PepsiCo, saw a sales boon with the launch of Pepsi Vanilla, one of the better-selling introductions of the year. A diet version also was launched.

Other soft drink news came in the form of an organic offering, claiming to be the first soda marketed with the USDA certified organic seal. Brewed using Ceylonese green tea, Steap Green Tea Sodas (Newtown, Pa.) are all-natural sodas in cola, lemon dew, raspberry, orange, key lime and root beer flavors. Green tea also was found in Cricket Green Tea Cola, regular and diet versions, from Cricket Cola (San Francisco).

The emerging Hispanic market in the U.S. garnered some attention from major beverage manufacturers. PepsiCo's SoBe offered Fuerte, a mango and passionfruit drink with Spanish labeling. The company's first beverage targeting that market, it also contains such herbal extracts as yerba mate and guarana. Mott's likewise targeted Hispanics with Clamato Energia. This non-carbonated, vegetable-based energy drink has 30% juice plus ginseng, taurine, guarana and B vitamins.

SoBe also was among the companies offering innovative launches in the juice subcategory. SoBe Elixir Pomegranate-Cranberry offers a blend of carnitine, chromium and vitamin C, while Nantucket Nectars (Cambridge, Mass.) debuted organic pomegranate pear juice. Pepsi's Tropicana line added three varieties of its Twister Twisted Lemonade--strawberry lemonade, black cherry lemonade and raspberry lemonade.

A number of fortified juice drinks offered extra vitamins, minerals and servings of fruit and vegetables. Coke's Odwalla brand got in the act with Blueberry B Monster, containing a half cup of blueberries and more than 300% of the RDI of B vitamins per serving.

Many traditional juices went the supplement route, with Minute Maid offering Calcium Plus Vitamin D-fortified orange juice. Meanwhile, Hain-Celestial Group (Uniondale, N.Y.) launched two varieties of juice--vegetable and carrot--fortified with lutein for eye health.

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database, www.gnpd.com, 312-932-0400.

Website Resources

Beverage formulators create new breeds of energy drinks

Article exploring the fundamental differences in formulating sports and energy beverages

Article detailing 2002's beverage introductions

Going Global

Considering the company's 2004 plans for its soft drinks, Coke's introductions overseas should come as no great surprise. While the U.S. awaited Sprite Zero and Diet Coke with lime, consumers in Belgium and France already enjoyed Sprite Ice Cube. Packaged in a blue plastic bottle, the lemon-and-lime favorite got a touch of mint in this version.

Coke also added flavors to its Fanta carbonate, but these were a bit more exotic. The line already has seen such options as lychee, raspberry, lime, pineapple and passionfruit, but now, Hungary, Israel and Denmark have access to an elderflower and lemon version. Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents may opt for the Dancing Starfruit Fanta.

Other global introduction trends sounded similar to new American options. Yerba Mate found a new home in Black Fire, a carbonated energy drink from Reginald Lee, in Argentina, that adds the leaves to such other ingredients as guarana seeds and ginseng.

At the same time, Hero entered the Netherlands' energy drinks market with Multifruit Energy. Containing 50% juice--a mix of apple, orange, grape, kiwi and lime--it also boasts guarana and taurine.

Sanpellegrino opted to widen the energy drinks base with Ch1nó. The bitters aperitif brand now offers an energizing version, formulated with royal jelly, ginseng, guarana and inositol. Yagua, on the other hand, went a more-superficial route. Beauty Juicer offers a blend of grapefruit, ginger and white cocoa enriched with collagen and aloe vera, claiming to make the body “younger from within.” A “food for the mind and mood,” it claims to support the growth of new body cells.