Sparking Juices

$78 million and counting. That’s where IRI put the total count for the sparkling juice category, a number that has to be discouraging for marketers in the once-hot set of alternative sodas, not counting Wal-Mart or convenience stores — not exactly the intended channels to begin with.

Or is it discouraging? Beyond those numbers sit a variety of uncounted distribution channels for the products, which continue to garner converts behind the bar, at the sandwich shop and in any number of high-end alternative channels.

Still, it’s hard to tell how much traction a traditional retailer can squeeze from sparkling juices. The category has felt lifeless since the purchase of its top brand, Izze, by PepsiCo in late 2006. As product quality improves – Fizzy Lizzy and Orangina just rebranded, for example, while Apple & Eve has launched a product aimed directly at the schools market – the bright lights seem to shine elsewhere, toward functional waters and teas.

Nevertheless, in the right product mix, sparklers are the way to go: a natural food chain in Seattle, PCC, cut all High-Fructose Corn Syrup-enhanced products – opening the door for juice-based altsodas. Cocktail culture shows no sign of abating. And the entrepreneurial vacuum left by the Izze purchase should keep the market bubbly before it withers on the vine.