NACS 2019 Review

This year’s annual National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) trade show once again served as a showcase for beverage innovation from some of the biggest names in the business, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé Waters and others.

For The Coca-Cola Company, this year’s NACS show was a major innovation showcase, featuring its biggest-ever roster of new products set for launch early next year. The biggest news was the U.S. debut of Coca-Cola Energy in January. Available in 12 oz. sleek cans, each with 114 mg of caffeine per serving, the line is aimed at shifting legacy Coke drinkers into the energy space with a flavor profile similar to the classic soft drink taste.

In coffee, Coke is going deeper in its relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts with the launch of a lightly sweetened cold brew available in two varieties: Caramel Black and Midnight Black. Outside of coffee, Coca-Cola and Sprite each will see the release of limited edition seasonal flavors: Sprite Winter Spiced Cranberry Sprite and Cinnamon Coca-Cola. Another new flavor — Cherry Vanilla Coke, available in original and Zero Sugar varieties — will debut in February 2020 as a permanent addition to the line. But innovation also came from the other end of the spectrum with better-for-you, reduced sugar drinks. Odwalla will release a three-SKU line of smoothies called Zero Sugar, which will feature 100-110 calories per 12 oz. PET bottle, depending on the SKU.

Elsewhere, PepsiCo highlighted new sugar-free drinks, revealing Wild Cherry as the first flavor extension for Pepsi Zero Sugar, which will be available in 20 oz. bottles for grab-and-go retail in February. The company also announced MTN Dew Zero Sugar in all pack sizes, and new sugar-free flavors for its energy-focused MTN Dew Game Fuel line in 16 oz. cans.

Pepsi’s portfolio of RTD Starbucks coffee products also continues to evolve; in February, it will introduce an unsweetened nitro-infused cold brew in 9.6 oz. cans. The company will also release two new products in December — Tripleshot Energy Dark Roast containing 225 mg of caffeine in a 15 oz. can and Brown Butter Caramel Frappuccino with a Splash of Cold Brew in a 13.7 oz. glass bottle.

For Nestlé Water North America’s (NWNA), last year was about making minor tweaks to the sparkling lines for its regional water brands, but this year the focus was on functionality. Northeast water brand Poland Spring will introduce a three-SKU line of flavored sparkling energy waters in 11.5 oz. slim cans in Meyer Lemon, Valencia Orange and White Peach flavors. Elsewhere, Nestlé is also broadening availability for S. Pellegrino Essenza, launching in c-store friendly 16.9 oz. PET bottles early next year in three varieties: Lemon & Lemon Zest, Dark Morello Cherry & Pomegranate and Blood Orange & Black Raspberry, the latter being a new flavor. Finally, Outshine, a brand of frozen fruit bars, will launch a beverage extension — fruit blended coconut water — in February.

As better-for-you products continue to gain steam in the mainstream, kombucha brands GT’s Living Foods and Health-Ade made their first appearances at NACS as the two companies — long successful in the natural channel — begin looking to c-stores as a way of fuelling new growth.

Health-Ade co-founder and chief sales officer Vanessa Dew told BevNET that the brand’s push into convenience began with up-and-down the street accounts in New York and Los Angeles, where the brand already had a deep footprint. As Health-Ade begins to dip its feet into convenience, Dew said the company will maintain a focus on similar geographies.

“As I think about some of the larger [chains] within c-stores, we can’t employ those same methods [as independent accounts],” Dew said. “Some of these stores reside in areas which are pretty far reaching … so we have to think about segmenting the right geography with the stores and segmenting where we want to go so that we’re able to tap new consumers.”

Kombucha’s presence in c-stores is still “nascent,” Dew said, noting that leaders in the space, such as PepsiCo’s KeVita and GT’s, have captured only a portion of the market to date. However, that hasn’t stopped smaller companies from targeting the channel.

KOE, a line of shelf-stable canned kombucha manufactured and distributed by Stratus Group, also exhibited at NACS. At the show, the brand unveiled a rebranded and reformulated product line featuring reduced sugar and calories; each SKU contains 8 grams of sugar and 35 calories per 12 oz. can, down from 80-to-90 calories per can. The products are now additionally sweetened with erythritol and stevia, and feature fruit-forward flavors in order to appeal to mainstream consumers. As well, the company introduced two new flavors: Lemon Lime and Strawberry Lemonade.