What's Happening Across Beverages

EARNHARDT’S DEPARTURE PUTS BRAKES ON BUD ENDORSEMENT

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s defection from longtime family racing team Dale Earnhardt Inc. means that Budweiser is losing one of its most recognizable drivers.

Earnhardt Jr., who reportedly left DEI over a conflict with his stepmother, Theresa Earnhardt, is also losing his #8 car along with his longtime sponsor in order to join Hendrick Motorsports, where, ironically, he replaces Kerry Busch.

With Hendrick having long-term commitments already in place at the time of the signing, according to team owner Rick Hendrick, Earnhardt Jr.’s sponsor simply can’t break into the fold.

On June 13, Earnhardt Jr. signed on to race for Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2008, but primary sponsorship of his team remains undecided. No timetable has been established for an announcement.

“Budweiser has sponsored Dale Jr. for nearly a decade, and we wish him the very best,” said Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Inc. “Budweiser will remain an active sponsor of NASCAR, and we look forward to building upon the legacy of the iconic Budweiser red car in 2008 and beyond.”

“To climb into that red Budweiser car each weekend has always been a privilege,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Although Budweiser and I will be unable to continue our partnership beyond this season, I remain committed to driving for Bud the rest of this year, and will continue to make it my beer of choice.”

With only a year gap in place for Budweiser, and Earnhardt Jr. one of the sport’s top drivers – as well as its most recognizable one – it’s highly unlikely that he’ll sit out of the red for too long.

DEALBOARD

Summertime Romance Edition

Remember sitting in the cabin at camp talking about who you liked but getting caught sneaking out by the counselor on-duty? That’s what happened in mid summer, when it appeared that Coke might be trying to find out if it could arrange a meeting with Snapple after its parent company, Cadbury Schweppes, sells off its beverage brands to a private equity prince.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo, which has been out of the game this year after a very busy 2006, has apparently developed a taste for European food and beverage conglomerates, as it reportedly sent moony love signals to both Groupe Danone and Nestle in the first half of the year.

Regardless, until someone actually asks someone else out, everyone’s staying single.

BEER FOR MY HORSES, LICENSED WATER PRODUCTS FOR ME…

He’s got his own whiskey, and now apparently Willie Nelson needs a little something to chase a shot with. So welcome to the debut of Willie Nelson Spring Water, put out by Simpson Distributing LLC. Bottled in the Ozarks, the product is wrapped in a label featuring the grand old man and his tour bus. For more info, check out www.willienelsonspringwater.com.SAUCY LICENSING DEALS

Continuing the great Southern tradition of cooking with cola, Cadbury Schweppes has entered into a licensing deal with Vita Food Products Inc. to produce Dr. Pepper, 7Up and A&W Root Beer barbeque sauces.

We’d have tried them ourselves, but as regular readers of the Bev- Blog know, we were a bit busy pulling together energy drink can barbecued chicken. In other barbecue news, now it can be told: the secret recipe for steak tips is 1 part Italian dressing, 1 part ketchup, and 1 part Coca-Cola. Awesome.

THE AD GAME: THE KIDS ARE OFF-LIMITS

Count PepsiCo among those beverage companies who are reconsidering their ad strategies – the company has stated that it will not be advertising soda or high-fat or high-sugar snack foods on shows aimed directly at the 12-and-under set.

There have been major questions about a link between advertising and child obesity, especially in the wake of a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report that showed the barrage of junk food ads most kids see in their early years, But some groups, particularly the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), would rather that PepsiCo not buckle.

The CCF recently trumpeted a study in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine that attempted to debunk any links between childhood obesity and food advertising.

Regardless of the finding, PepsiCo isn’t the only company feeling the heat; General Mills and Kraft are also pulling ads. Whether the changes move into licensed beverage brands is more of an issue for retailers – promotions or product lines related to child-centric entertainment are time-honored sales tools, and any reduction in those kinds of products would likely affect the bottom line for retailers.

File Under: Shrinking Shreks!

SPYKES SPIKED

The Spykes saga has finally ended.

Anheuser Busch, bowing to pressure from watchdog groups – as well as the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office – is pulling the 2 oz. flavored malt liquor “shots.”

Criticism of the manufacturer erupted after it appeared that young drinkers had begun to favor Spykes due to its fruity flavor profile and caffeine content.

Bud Chairman August Busch IV told investors he was pulling the product during a a shareholders’ meeting.

DIET COKE TURNS 25

It might go down in history as the most successful sequel ever (although we’re still partial to Godfather II).

Debuting with an upbeat “Just for the Taste of It” campaign that carried it through into prominence, Diet Coke is now the world’s top-selling diet soda. Coke unveiled a silver Diet Coke slimcan in Atlanta just for the event. The product’s addictive qualities are famous and celebrated – with just a touch more caffeine than its full-calorie predecessor, the stuff has seemingly always managed to rope in people who do things all day long.

We don’t know that we necessarily agree with Coke spokeswoman Katie Bayne that “Since its launch, Diet Coke has been synonymous with stylish sophistication,” given the fact that we know a lot of less than stylishly sophisticated folks who drink it with robotic regularity. Nevertheless, it was certainly a piece of innovation that showed a sophisticated understanding of the marketplace.

Coke’s nod to its own history isn’t just restricted to the low-cal side, however. The company also rolled out a Coca-Cola Classic can with a cleaned-up appearance, one that brings it back to an earlier, redder time. With a single white ribbon and a lack of background illustration, it stands in contrast to the wildly varied versions of Pepsi Cola that have been appearing as part of PepsiCo’s year-long promotion of fast-changing can designs.