Lemonade Stays Strong

By Jeffrey Klineman

If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade. For companies trying to get a leg up in the grab-and-go world of the juice cooler, that’s been exactly what’s been going on.

While ersatz “fruit drinks” have been in decline for years, the lemonade category has been one of the few flavors that drink makers can turn to when they want an inexpensive winner. All manner of juices have moved to the high end, but when it comes to lemonade, the formula aligns closest to those of older “New Age” products like Snapple and Nantucket Nectars.

But those older juice drinks and pure juice products have fallen on hard times. In the bottled juice category, orange juice has been struggling since the Atkins craze, while many of the blends that powered the early years of Snapple and SoBe have come to be viewed as just so much sugar water.

Meanwhile, lemonade has never pretended to be much more than that. Maybe because it’s a drink that many associate with homemade, and maybe because the ingredients don’t vary all that much at their most basic level, lemonade has stayed fairly steady. But with new brands like Hubert’s, Calypso, Cabana, and even a re-launched Fuze energizing the category, in fact, it’s gotten a strong tailwind that’s now in its third year. That tailwind has even extended to long-in-the-tooth refrigerated brands like Coke’s Simply Lemonade and Minute Maid Light lines, filling sails for companies large and small.

Interestingly enough, while most juice categories have been subject to a strong premiumization trend, lemonade has basically remained sheltered from the cold-pressed, HPP, antioxidant and nutrient rich craze. Certainly more cultural touchpoints for premium products, like organic certification, have become key marketing points for some brands, while lower calorie formulations have also become as common for lemonade as they have for other drinks (citrus’ easy blending with on-trend stevia helps there), but there’s no innate supposition that lemonade is supposed to be good for you. What it has been, however, is healthy business – and it’s growing more so every year.

The potency of lemonade as a flavor can also be found in the fact that its success is permeating other categories: in bubbles, on the value side Sparkling Ice launched four sparkling lemonade flavors, while high-end brands like Spindrift and Bibbs have also found new retailers happy to take on lemonade skus as well. In booze, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is the category leader for malternatives. The hottest new energy drink entries – the Rehab and Recovery lines from Monster and Rockstar, respectively, have been based around a lemonade format. And in the RTD tea category, of course, one of the runaway successes of the past few years has been the Arnold Palmer ½ tea, ½ lemonade formulation.

AriZona liked that format so much, in fact, that it plotted a similar (golf) course in recruiting Jack Nicklaus as the face of a brand new line. It’s so comfortable with betting on lemonade that it kicked out the tea – and guess what? Golden Bear Lemonade is one of the fastest growing brands in all of bottled and canned juices and juice drinks.

Maybe that’s why Snapple, still fighting to stay relevant with so many competitors around, chose to formulate lemonades as its new line of products for an exclusive line of drinks with 7-Eleven. Going with a lemonade is something of a return to the brand’s simpler roots. It’s no Trop-A-Rocka, but with all due respect to Bret Michaels, it’s the lemonade that keeps on delivering the hits.