New Age: Double Cola Adapts to a Changing Landscape

As Bob Dylan so famously warbled, yes, the times they are a-changin’.

After a year in which water toppled soda as the number one consumed beverage in the U.S., it’s clear that soft drink companies are facing a significant shift in consumer demand for high-calorie, sweet and fizzy products.

Yet, could anyone have guessed that in its 80th year of business, The Double Cola Company, a stalwart of classic Americana and traditional sodas, would venture into… the coconut water category? Perhaps not, but Double Cola, like many other CSD companies, is doing its best to adapt to wave after wave of consumers increasingly mindful of what they drink and the impact of sugary beverages on overall health and wellness.

Knowing that it’s operating in the midst of a beverage landscape in transition — and with some gentle prodding from its distributor partners — Double Cola last week announced that it will make its first foray into New Age beverages with the introduction of a 100 percent, not from concentrate coconut water and a line of vitamin-infused teas. The company has also introduced a new value-priced energy drink brand. The products are set to launch later this year and will key new distribution initiatives for the company, which is planning to expand into markets in the Northeastern and Western U.S.

While Double Cola’s sphere of distribution has long centered in and around the South and Midwest, the regions closest to where its products are formulated, the company will begin distribution of its Min?ku Coconut Water, which is sourced from and co-packed in Thailand, along the East and West coasts.  Double Cola vice president Gina McCommon said that the despite the dozens of coconut water brands currently on the market, the company sees “a lot of room left” in the category, particularly with lifestyle trends leaning toward health and wellness. And believing that its distributors would inevitably begin to carry coconut water as part of their portfolios, McCommon noted that it’s “better if it comes from us” than another beverage company.

Packaged in 17.5 oz. tropical-themed cans and promoted as “A Natural Escape,” Min?ku will retail for $2.49-2.69. McCommon said that the company plans to roll out a range of new flavors in Tetra Paks beginning in the third quarter of this year.

For as crowded a category as coconut water has become, the ready to drink tea market is overflowing with competing brands. Nevertheless, sales of tea have remained on an upward trajectory, and Double Cola saw an opportunity to gain a toehold in the category by merging increasing demand for tea with that of functional drinks. The company’s new Zili Tea line comes in five flavors – three black and two green varieties – each infused with 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of B-vitamins. The drinks are all-natural and sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia, which keeps the calorie count at 110 per 16 oz. bottle.

Double Cola will introduce the teas in the Northeast and will look to partner with new co-packers and distributors in the region. With tea opening the door, the company hopes to bring other drinks in its portfolio to the lucrative market.

In contrast to a bevy of positive media attention surrounding so-called “better-for-you” beverages, energy drinks have faced a hailstorm of criticism. Regardless of the negative winds swirling around the energy category, consumers are still buying the products at a healthy clip, and Double Cola saw an opening via a value-priced option. Its new Quad Energy line contains most of the same ingredients found in typical energy drinks, and is priced at a fraction of the cost: the five SKU line has a suggested retail price of $0.99 for a 16 oz. can. With a low price as a point of entry, Double Cola is aiming to bring Quad to convenience stores in its distribution footprint.

Although Double Cola hopes that the new drinks will offer a measure of balance for its portfolio and preparedness for the changing times, McCommon said that the company will continue to place its focus and attention on the growth of its existing line of core brands, several of which, including its flagship cola and citrus-flavored Ski, have been repackaged and rebranded over the past year. Along with the addition of several distributor partners, including a number of independent beer houses, the new look drinks helped spur 17 percent growth in overall revenue for the company in 2012.