NACS New Product Hunt

Just as the crowds hitting Cupertino, Calif. for the Apple announcement may have been disappointed by the lack of an iPhone 5 announcement, visitors to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Chicago didn’t emerge with any groundbreaking new product revelations.

There were, however, some significant packaging and format changes, and many recent developments in other channels seemed to be new to the convenience world.

Chief among those changes is the ongoing onslaught of new Coca-Cola packaging. Coke’s core sparkling brands, Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Sprite will all now be available in a 12.5 oz. PET bottle that the company is calling the “hand-held.” With a suggested price of $.89, the new size is intended for immediate consumption and continues the company’s recent string of packaging innovations, including 100-calorie cans, as the brand moves away from a previous generation of 20 oz. packages. The smaller bottle was trumpeted by Coke strategic planner Russell Baker as the “Coca-Cola Hand-Held” — “it’s based on shopper insights on the importance of hand-held devices to younger consumers,” Baker said.

Other, smaller soda companies looked to decrease the size of their packages as well — tiny Wit Beverage Co., for example, which makes Goose Island Soda, Black Bear Soda and Jelly Belly Gourmet Sodas, among others, displayed a 6.3 oz. line of classic flavors that seemed destined for hotel minibars and other “retro” venues.

Meanwhile, FRS, a company that emphasizes the nutritional extract quercetin as an energy source, demonstrated a new shot sized package debuting soon in Orange and Peach Mango flavors; like many new products, the shots contain a Quick Response tag that can take consumers with smart phones to  a web site with more information on the product.

Also, FRS CEO Carl Sweat revealed a growing number of functional line extensions for the brand, which is distributed via an agreement with PepsiCo’s warehouse division. Next year, FRS will have immunity and weight management sub-lines, featuring a vitamin and amino acid payload and an as-yet-unnamed appetite suppressant, respectively.

Emerging energy drink brand Speed Energy, backed by racer Robby Gordon, was on hand with a new line extension called “Ethanol” — a candy apple flavor — and “Unleaded”, which is, as the name might imply, sugar-free. The brand launched in 2010 and is still getting distribution.

GT Beverage, which makes fast-growing Sportastic sports drinks for kids, wasn’t showing off too many new line extensions, but it did reveal significant distribution growth — having recently cut back on direct shipments to DSD, according to national sales manager Stephen Cobb, the brand with the ball-shaped bottle is moving into major wholesaler accounts like Haralambos, Honickman and others, along with approvals in Albertson’s and Food for Less. Meanwhile, GT’s co-packer, Tony Varni of 7-Up Bottling in Modesto, had staked out part of the booth for his new Noah’s Sparkling Waters cans, which are a re-boot of his company’s in-house line.

Iced Tea kingpin Don Vultaggio put in a rare appearance at NACS, as well, and while there  weren’t any new NA products at his Arizona booth, there were some new malternatives, including Pina Colada and Strawberry Colada-flavored tall cans with the unmistakeable Arizona styling.

At Bai brands, owner Ben Weiss still wasn’t sure his “coffee fruit”-based juice drink was a slam dunk for the convenience channel, but he had the PET packages on hand to give it a try. Still, new products from Bai came in the form of low-calorie Bai5’s Ipanema Pomegranate and the newly re-christened Togo Tangerine, a re-staging of its former “Costa Rica Clementine.”

In the “New to You” category, marketers like New Age Beverage and Xyience demonstrated just-announced line extensions  like Xing Juice Drinks and Xyience’s new Xenergy Xtreme Frostberry Blast, featuring the likeness of UFC Middleweight Wanderlei Silva. Meanwhile, Body Armor, which arrived on the market just a few months ago, demonstrated a reformulated Raspberry Blueberry Goji formula, along with five other flavors.

Taking advantage of the heat in the lemonade category, Clearly Canadian sales team veterans Paddy Sheya and Bob Yates showed off Cabana Lemonade, an all-natural fast-follow to the surging Calypso line of lemonades, teas and juice drinks. The five-SKU all glass Cabana line will soon be followed, according to Sheya, with Pulse, a three-function, five flavor line of nutraceuticals aimed at men’s and women’s health, along with heart health.

“When we can’t get Calypso, here we come, right behind them,” Shea said. “And we’re 100 percent natural.”

Possibly, but Calypso continues to be one of the fastest-growing brands in the country, with distribution recently secured at Wal-Mart, among other retail outlets.

There are three companies currently commercializing the power of “Mix-To-Drink” technology, Activate, V-Blast, and newcomer Karma Water. While Karma wasn’t there, Activate had major news in the form of a distribution agreement with 7-Eleven in Baja, Mexico, where it moved into 65 stores, according to Gustavo Puffelis, the founder of InBevCo, which imports food and beverages into that area. Meanwhile, V-Blast, which uses a liquid solution instead of powder in its reservoir cap, has recently pioneered a newer cap release mechanism with should soon appear atop the product line, according to sales director Frank Natale.

Also moving briskly at NACS were brand new My Body Shots, non-caffeinated rehydration shots loaded with electrolytes and vitamins. Branded with the tagline “Be Good to Your Body,” the six-SKU shot line kept a low profile but had heavy booth traffic.

Still, the heaviest booth traffic seemed to arrive at around 3 p.m. Monday for the introduction of rapper 50 cent, whose new Street King energy shot was, in the words of an announcer, guaranteed to “kill your store.” Despite such an ominous lead-in, the shot has a built-in hunger-fighting social mission.

50 -- Here to Kill Your Store?

Getting back to packaging changes, Jones Soda showed a convenience line-friendly set of familiar flavors Green Apple, Berry Lemonade and Strawberry Lime sodas, all in 16 oz. cans. With a new all-natural product called “Au Naturale” coming out next month, according to CEO Bill Meissner, the brand that introduced many entrepreneurs to the broad reach of beverage innovation through oddities like Turkey and Gravy Soda is still coming up with new products.

Fortunately, there was no iPhone-flavor anywhere to be seen. Not even in a Hand-Held bottle.

For more information on new product developments at NACS — including footage of many new products mentioned above — tune back in for our upcoming BevNET TV report.