Bridging the Great Divide

For years, the divide in the boutique CSD category has been easy to trace – it’s the line between the carbonated juice and the gourmet, old-school soda. That’s why Beverage Spectrum divided coverage this year, letting the Izzes and Fizzy Lizzys of the world strut their stuff without having to wrangle with the Reeds’s and the Maine Roots.

But apparently soda makers abhor easy definitions, so the gourmet soda group, this year, has morphed and split once again. The gourmet stuff remains gourmet stuff – more sugar, high end packages, natural sourcing, hard-to-beat flavor profiles.

But there are also enough new entries under the “healthy soda” rubric that they basically comprise a group of their own: even though these products make no pretension about having the wholesomeness of juice are nevertheless pushing their health benefits forward. They’re still sodas, of course, but they’re functional, they’re artificially sweetened, and they’re trying to bridge the divide between the old-school flavor associations of the CSD with the new age idea that a drink can do more.

The key piece of leverage to many of these sodas is the experimental sweetener stevia. The idea that a natural diet sweetener might be a game-changer is a big one. But it’s such a big idea that the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo are working on stevia-based products of their own. And the notion that they might want to steal the thunder of independent brands isn’t a flawed one. After all, as functional sodas moved into the mainstream, what did they launch? Diet Pepsi Maxx and Diet Coke Plus.

It makes the nutritional sell tough for some of these guys, to be sure. What’s an independent operator to do? How about go both high-end and enhanced? That’s something that both Hank’s and Snow are giving a shot, taking new flavors and nutrition, mixing them up, and putting them out there. If nothing else, it adds a few more vitamins to your shelf set. And then there’s Health Cola.

“We’re in the healthy category in a way that they used to be,” says Alejandro Lacea, brand manager of Health Cola. “No phosphoric acid, natural cane sugar It’s for what we don’t have.”

BRAND NEWS

Jones Soda

Jones Soda Co. has announced the launch of its personalized soda, myJones, at Wal-Mart Photo Centers nationwide. By the end of September all 3,400 photo centers will be complete and Wal-Mart consumers can upload their favorite photo, type a personalized message on the label and order a six-pack of myJones at United States based Wal-Mart stores. Jones Soda is recognized and awarded for its unique labeling that features images generated and submitted by its customers. MyJones will be available in six flavors: Green Apple, Root Beer, Blue Bubblegum, FuFu Berry, Cream Soda and Sugar-Free Black Cherry. The custom myJones order ?can be picked up at the store by the Wal-Mart customer two to three weeks after ?the order is placed.

Reed’s

Reed’s Inc. has launched an all-natural diet cola, Virgil’s Diet Real Cola. The new flavor is the signature addition to the Virgil’s portfolio of diet, including Virgil’s Diet Root Beer, Virgil’s Diet Cream, Black Cherry Diet Cream and now, Diet Real Cola. Virgil’s Diet Real Cola is caffeine-free and gluten free, and contains no preservatives or artificial ingredients. Sweetened with Stevia and Xylitol, all-natural sweeteners, Virgil’s Diet Real Cola expands upon Virgil’s Cola, which was successfully introduced within the mainstream marketplace in March of 2008.

Maine Root Handcrafted Beverages

This summer marked the rollout of three new flavors of Fair Trade Certified Organically sweetened sodas: Lemon Lime, Mandarin Orange, and Blueberry. Currently, Lemon Lime, Mandarin Orange, and Blueberry sodas are available for shipment in loose cases of 24; they will be available in 4-packs the middle of October. Additionally, Maine Root’s Ginger Beer cases received an upgrade, and are now available in a stylish printed mother carton in either loose or 4 pack configuration. Among independents on board to sell the entire line are North Country Naturals out of Brattleboro VT, Atlantic Importing from Framingham, MA., Ace Metro Beverage in Long Island, NY, Big Sky Beverages in CT, Bradley Distributing in the Midwest, Savannah Distributing in GA, and Greenling in Austin TX.

Wet Planet

Jolt, continuing to straddle the line between CSD and energy drink, has tagged itself as “refreshment energy,” or as they put it, “good tasting energy.” Jolt Energy is available in 7 delicious flavors. And this year, in addition to a re-sealable 16 oz. can, Jolt has launched three new flavors; Wild Grape, Orange Blast and Passion Fruit. All the flavors contain a generous dose of stimulating ingredients, including with Taurine, Ginseng, Guarana, Vitamin B Complex, and Caffeine.

Snow Beverages

Snow is introducing a new line of naturally flavored sodas that are not only fortified with vitamins and antioxidants, but also come in popular flavors like Pure Cola and Lemon Lime. Snow Naturally Flavored Vitamin Sodas will be launched at select east coast retailers in October 2008. Wide scale regional distribution is set to begin in early 2009 with expectations to expand nationally soon thereafter. Snow Naturally Flavored Vitamin Sodas contain no high fructose corn syrup, no caffeine, no preservatives and no artificial flavors.

Zevia

Zevia, made with stevia, is an all-natural sugar-free diet soda “alternative.” Zevia is made without artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and artificial flavors, and also has no high fructose corn syrup or phosphoric acid. Zevia launched in late 2007 with three flavors: Natural Cola, Natural Orange, and Natural Twist (lemon-lime). In April 2008, Zevia shipped the latest flavor, Natural Ginger Root Beer. High profile Zevia retailers across the country include Hannaford Supermarkets, Andronico’s, Bristol Farms, Albertson’s Southern California, QFC (Kroger NW Division), Haggen-Top Foods, Central Market in Texas, Wegman’s, Ukrop’s, and Earth Fare. Zevia is available through natural food distributors UNFI, Nature’s Best, DPI, Tree of Life, and Steiner Foods.

Dry Soda Co.

For the first time since its inception, DRY Soda Co. will be unveiling two new flavors this October: Vanilla Bean and Juniper Berry. DRY’s new soda additions were created with the guidance of acclaimed chef and Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chefs in 2006” Jason Wilson of Seattle’s Crush Restaurant. At 60 calories per 12-ounce bottle, DRY Vanilla Bean is aromatic, lightly sweet and delicate without being creamy. DRY Juniper Berry has only 55 calories, and is crisp with a pine essence and high acidity. As with DRY’s original four flavors, kumquat, lavender, lemongrass and rhubarb, the two new flavors are all-natural and sweetened with pure cane sugar.

Global Beverage Enterprises

Global Beverage Enterprises has launched Sweet Blossom, which it claims is America’s first soda made from flower petals. The soda is all natural, pasteurized and made from flower petal extracts. The sodas contain cane sugar, and the line will be featured on The Food Network’s Unwrapped with Marc Summers in December 2008. Another extension of the line is the company’s “Mr. Q-Cumber” soda. The company is using the trademark “Stop and Taste the Flowers” in its advertisements.

High Voltage Beverages LLC

High Voltage Beverages LLC, manufacturer, distributor, and marketer of Volt High Energy Electrolyte Replacement Carbonated Soft Drinks and Sports Drinks, has appointed Cascadia Consulting Group’s Bill Sipper as President. Sipper has held key management positions with brands like Evian, Nantucket Nectars, Fresh Samantha, and Naked Juice. Volt Carbonated Soft Drinks targets the Mt. Dew consumer with a high caffeine, ginseng, guarana, and taurine enhanced soda with ?a campaign which states, “When Dew Don’t Do it.”

Ardea Beverage Comapny

Ardea, the creators of Nutrisoda, has announced an expansion into the West Coast market with its line of nutrient-enhanced, sparkling beverages. The company has entered into partnerships with several California distributors, allowing retailers throughout the state to meet the needs of consumers searching for healthy, sugar-free beverage alternatives. In Southern California, leading distributors John Lenore Company, GBL Santa Barbara Distributing and Real Soda in Real Bottles are supplying Nutrisoda to the market. In Northern California, Nutrisoda will be distributed through Superior Products and Bay Area Distributing.