Local Drinks Bring the Battle to Global Soda Market

Do trends in soda consumption in Germany reflect a bigger move away from global brands to local brands with personality and good values? Sales of Coca-Cola are still strong in Germany, and of course Budweiser sponsored the World Cup, but our recent trip to Berlin and Hamburg made us wonder how long it will be before the impetus to buy local, buy green, and buy niche are as compelling as buying the biggest and best-known.

In nearly every Berlin café, currywurst house, grocery store and restaurant we’ve been to, one drink brand stands proudly on counters, in refrigerators, and on menus.

Bionade was launched 12 years ago by a private Bavarian brewer in the Biosphere Reserve “Hohe Rhön.” They claim that the drink is the world’s first and only unique non-alcoholic organically produced soft drink. It’s produced through an organic fermentation process, and comes in drool-inducing flavors like blueberry, elderberry, lychee, herb and ginger-orange.

By its presence in all of the establishments we visited, it appears that Bionade isn’t a flash in the pan: after more than a decade, it seems to have stayed extremely popular with the locals.

Another brand we note is Hamburg’s Premium-Cola. They take the fight to the big global brands so much that they proudly print their secret ingredients brightly on the label of their products. A slightly one-sided Wikipedia entry gives some insight into the company:

“Premium-Cola is not a company, since profit is not a goal of the collective. There is no office, no salaries and no actual boss. All members of the collective make a living by other jobs and build up Premium-Cola as sort of a hobby. All issues are decided on collectively, there is hardly any advertising – instead, art pictures are printed on the inside of the bottles’ labels.”

We were told that Premium Cola has been such a hit that Coke reacted by running an ad campaign to squash the upstart – creating protests and resentment in their core market.
Fritz-Kola was another Hamburg brand offering an alternative to global sodas. Fritz was founded only a few years ago by two environmentally conscious graduates dissatisfied with their local soft drink choices; the range now includes a variety of flavored fizzy drinks. Fritz is named after the common German moniker (think Fred Water or Jones Soda in the U.S.) and is sold across the European Union.

Still, when we were traveling around, we thought that these products were kind of a local phenomenon – until we started seeing them in other places, and realized that there’s a tendency for people to grasp for local products – even if they aren’t native to their own locality. Small seems to show quality and intimacy – even if it isn’t small anymore. Remember that even some of the fastest growing brands today all came out of a certain niche appeal: Trader Joe’s, American Apparel, even behemoths like Google and Apple all had an “in the know” crowd before they had a national following. For the most part, they’ve maintained the image of having a very personal dialogue with their customers even as they’ve grown beyond all borders. They speak to them as if they were home-grown.

And like those products, the local successes we saw have the potential to grow beyond their borders. And they have: recently, Bionade signed a deal with McDonald’s to be marketed in their next-generation McCafe, while the company is also launching the product in the U.S., Canada, Spain and Ireland. Time magazine recently reported on its fast growth. And hey, we noticed it, too!
So when you’re traveling, keep an eye out for those things that have the hometown spirit. And think about how you can package the spirit in your hometown, as well. What aspects of your everyday life could echo elsewhere? The spirit of those things can manifest itself in many of the products you make.

Piers Fawkes blogs at www.psfk.com