Lower-sugar soft drinks are a new trend

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th March 2013

A new trend for ‘mid-calorie’ products has appeared in the global carbonated drinks market, according to market research organisation Innova Market Insights.

The new products, which Innova Market Insights said are “positioned as a halfway house between the taste of full-sugar products and the health benefits of sugar-free options”, are being trialled by Pepsi-Co, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple as a way of renewing interest in the carbonated drinks market, which is considered a “mature and generally static market”.

In the US, PepsiCo is trialling the ‘mid-calorie’ concept with a product called Pepsi Next Cola, which has 60 per cent fewer calories than regular Pepsi and is sweetened with a blend of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), aspartame, acesulfame-K and sucralose.

PepsiCo also launched the mid-calorie brand in Australia in 2012. The Australian version used a formulation with the sweetener stevia, and only had 30 per cent less sugar than the standard lines.

Carbonates market leader Coca-Cola also developed and tested its own mid-calorie carbonates range in the US in 2012, using the Select sub-brand for its Fanta and Sprite products. These drinks used natural sweeteners, including sugar, stevia and erythritol, and had 50 per cent of the calories found in the standard lines.

Dr Pepper Snapple, which is the number three player in the US, also developed a reduced-calorie concept, which it called the Dr Pepper Ten concept. The concept, which was launched in 2011, was a ten-calorie carbonate aimed 25-34-year-old men. The product used a “macho marketing” campaign in an attempt to ditch the diet image. In January 2013, the company followed up Dr Pepper Ten with the launch of 7 Up Ten, A&W Ten, Sunkist Ten, Canada Dry Ten and RC Ten, all featuring both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners HFCS, aspartame and acesulfame-K. With ten calories, says Innova Marketing Insights, these drinks fall somewhere between the traditional diet soft drinks and the newer concept of the ‘mid-calorie’ drink.

Lu Ann Williams, Research Manager at Innova Market Insights, warned that although there is some indication of interest in the new concept, it could ultimately confuse consumers. “They may not have widespread consumer appeal, may confuse consumers with a raft of different calorie levels, sweeteners and positionings and may, in any case, cannibalise sales of existing full and low calorie lines,” she said.

Interest in low-calorie and reduced-sugar lines is now well established and products using this type of claim accounted for 17.5 per cent of global carbonate launches in 2012, said Innova Market Insights. In the US, low-calorie and reduced-sugar products accounted for nearly a quarter of new product launches in 2012, but in Asia, only about 11 per cent of new carbonated drinks products fell into this category.

Despite their ongoing dominance in terms of market size, carbonated beverages accounted for just 14 per cent of new product activity globally in soft drinks in 2012.

Innova Market Insights said that innovation in the soft drinks market tends to come from the US because the US has the largest carbonated soft drinks market in the world, as well as the highest per capita consumption levels. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple account for 90 per cent of carbonated soft drink sales, which “has served to limit innovation in some instances”, said Ms Williams. “This has also tended to stifle the development of new players and brands,” she added.