@@img1 THE PRINCE OF BEVERAGES
By Greg W. Prince
If it’s Thanksgiving or thereabouts, it’s time for the traditional feast. Of beverages.
BevHeads all over by now know that Jones Soda has taken its place alongside the Macy’s parade and the Detroit Lions as an essential staple of the late-November cornucopia of familial angst, frightening levels of consumption and, oh yeah, the onset of the cheer of the season.
God bless us all, everyone.
Like a beacon in the night that descends over us every year around this time (can you tell that I’m not really a Holidays kind of guy?), Jones has emerged the last two late autumns with a great idea. It’s the kind of idea you and your buddies might have dreamt up in the wee hours in college after the fifth Busch or the sixth pot of Nescafé. “Hey man, somebody should make soda that tastes like food!” Except Jones actually followed through.
Is this any way to run a beverage company? Damn straight it is.
In 2003, Jones produced a little something-something called Turkey & Gravy Soda and once the world heard about it, the world blanched, but in the sort of way people who missed the Nicolette Sheridan/Terrell Owens towel bit on Monday Night Football did. “Oh that sounds awful. I sure want to see it for myself!”
The networks obliged with not-so-instant replays of the Desperate Housewife and the dismal-acting Eagle (“this is so offensive, we have to show it to you again”). Jones, on the other hand, had a delicacy of sorts on its hands. They’re Jones. They’re the proverbial “we make in a year what some soda companies spill on one end of a Q-Tip” group. No wonder they had to call a Hail Mary to get attention.
It worked. Everybody was talking about Turkey & Gravy Soda at this time last year. It wasn’t viewed as a sick joke because some of the proceeds were going to charity, and besides that, it’s soda. It’s fun.
For the record, Turkey & Gravy Soda, last year’s model anyway, was pretty wretched. And it was fantastic. Taste may be subjective, but come on. The beauty part was the windfall of publicity Peter van Stolk and his crew reaped. Jones Soda was a lot on more maps as a result of the willingness to do something highly unusual. Some people even found out they made other flavors and came back to Jones after Thanksgiving.
This year, Jones did the only logical thing. They brought back Turkey & Gravy with a vengeance.and with a posse. T&G was revived in a Holiday Pack, along with Cranberry, Fruitcake, Green Bean Casserole and Mashed Potato & Butter. Notice that the flavors get progressively less reasonable as you read through them. Cranberry’s a legit beverage variety. Fruitcake.well, it does have fruit in the name. I don’t want to think about the others.
But Jones is doing its thing, getting attention, generating some good deeds-a portion of the sales is again going to Toys for Tots-and sticking a pin in the balloon of those who take their food science way too seriously. In a statement accompanying the year two release, van Stolk dryly vows this quintet represents a zero-calorie, zero-carb Thanksgiving dinner. And people are still intrigued. The same Holiday Pack that went on sale at Targets in mid-November for about 16 bucks were going on eBay, just before Thanksgiving, for at least twice that.
Nice job keeping up, Jones. I like when beverage makers mess around with flavor. Well, don’t mess around with anything I like (the Prince of Beverages is nothing if not a font of self-interest), but keep experimenting. Keep trying weird stuff. One day, the weird will become socially acceptable or at least inspire somebody to something else that may be the next big thing.
There are no rights and wrongs in flavors. I imagine there’s at least one American who thinks Turkey & Gravy is delicious, and to that drinker, I toast thee: Shine on, you crazy diamond. For all the attributes beverage marketers tout, not nearly enough get down to the heart of the matter. Does it taste good? Delicious? Awesome? Like something somebody would want to drink on a going basis?
And if it doesn’t do that, is the taste proposition intriguing? You’re not going to get a mass audience going way outside the box, but like with so many other beverage ideas, that’s not the point of hatching them. Get a few people interested and then a few more people interested, and then you’ve got something.
Know what I thought was a dreadful idea? Chili beer. A decade or so ago, I was at a beer wholesalers’ convention and there was this new product creating some buzz on the exhibitors’ floor (and the exhibitors’ floor created a lot of buzz, if you know what I mean). Big Ed’s Cave Creek Beer was the brand of the hour. It came with a chili pepper at the bottom of the bottle. I took a sip and immediately regretted it. Then I ran to the snack bar to look for a piece of sponge cake to absorb the sensation.
Fast-forward about five years, and I’m in Phoenix meeting with some old friends. The guy who lived in the area took us to the brewpub where Cave Creek Beer originated. He loved it! Everybody at our table loved it! I wouldn’t go near it a second time, but what do I know? Ditto for Blenheim Ginger Ale, a soda from South Carolina that sounded as tempting as a trip to South of the Border when I first heard about it a dozen or so years ago; the roof of my mouth needed a patch job after a sample. But I just saw it mentioned as an option in an article listing unique holiday gifts. More than a few people like weirdly flavored beverages, and even more don’t know what they’re missing. Go figure.
Better yet, go make more. This is an industry built on ideas that were once weird. It could always use a little more of that pioneer spirit.
Greg W. Prince (firstname.lastname@example.org) has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.