Battle of mid-calorie sodas begins, but “taste cloud” may hang over them.

PepsiTrueOK, as reported last week in a nice piece in the Huffington Post Online, here comes Pepsico with their cokelifemid-calorie soda, new Pepsi True. This is Pepsi’s answer to Coca Cola Life, the Atlanta soda juggernaut’s mid-calorie entry reported on, somewhat derisively, here on SME Brand Leverage blog, September 5.

Guess the only place where you can buy Pepsi True?

Now, while Coke is apparently going to market and sell Life pretty much in line with traditional soft drink retailing, i.e. distribution in grocery and convenience stores; media advertising, promotion and social media support, Pepsi True is using a very different and more limited distribution attack, exclusively selling on Amazon ONLY. Maybe they’ll cross promote with diet books.

Whether this reflects Pepsi’s more conservative expectations for their mid-calorie player, or just a phased “wait and see” approach before they expand to broader distribution and availability, we’ll see.

Here’s where it gets a little confusing.

Both True and Life are sweetened with a blend of sugar and stevia, a sugar substitute derived from plants that has essentially no calories (more on “stevia” below). Pepsi True contains 60 calories in a little slight of hand using a 7 1/2  ounce can; Coca Cola Life at least stands up straight and tall in its “big boy” pants in a traditional, full size 11.2 ounce can, and clocks in at 89 calories. In “normal” size (11.2 ounces) cans, they would both have nearly equal calories. So I guess Pepsi wins the calorie lightweight title using some packaging sleight of hand, but gee, what if you’re still thirsty and need to drink two of them?

(Just for the record and comparison, full size can of regular Coke has around 140 calories.)

This dive off the we-can-make-our-mid-calorie-soda-lower-than-yours board comes less than a week after Pepsi joined Coca Cola in promising to cut calories in its beverages by 20 percent, buckling under the “Fight Obesity” war cries of the world’s Food Nazis.

cokelife_canonlyPEPSI-TRUE-caseSo, is everything going to be oh-so-tasty in Mid-Calorie Land? Again, we’ll see.

This is where this “experiment” in skinny living and soda drinking is going to get interesting.

The beverage companies are getting desperate to offset rather meaningful declines in their diet soda volumes, probably a partial result of the “diet” products having having an undesirable aftertaste. As the HuffPo article lays out, now the soda giants are counting on stevia to revitalize their “lower” calories products.

But there’s a potential problem with stevia: formulas using it are sometimes perceived as having a bitter, sometimes licorice-esque aftertaste that’s unattractive to some drinkers. Earlier this year, Coca Cola’s Vitaminwater reformulated using stevia in its formula. The customer blowback was pretty rough and caused Coca Cola to retreat and return to the original formula within only one month of the change.

So, yes, we’ll see how these new “stevia” based reformulations are accepted. Companies can make mistakes. Remember “New Coke”? How bout “Pepsi Next”?

Original Pepsi  and Coca Cola drinkers may scrunch up their noses when they taste Pepsi True and Coca Cola Life. sour face

Of course they may like the new mid-calorie sodas “enough,” that they just grin and bear it….

and keep trying to squeeze into those pants that used to fit.

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Falstaff Beer — Gone, but not forgotten.

falstaffThis post doesn’t have a lot to do with “branding” per se, but it’s an opportunity for me to recollect and revisit, however briefly, a brand of cheap beer that I grew up with in Saint Louis, Missouri — Falstaff.

Falstaff was started in 1883 by the Lemp family and closely held by them until it’s sale in 1921 to the Griesedieck Beverage Company. It was one of two major breweries in Saint Louis . (Recollection #1 — I’ll warn you upfront about the sick humor that follows, but you can imagine the juvenile laughs we underage, male beer drinkers found in referring to our purchase and consumption of some “Greasy D–k” beer.)

Griesedieck/Falstaff was always overshadowed by the Anheuser Busch brewery which continually fought Schlitz Brewing (in Milwaukee) for #1 beer brand in the United States. However, Falstaff did have its moment in the sun in the mid-1960’s when it was the third largest brewery in America. (Recollection #2 — In the 1940’s there was a humorous joke going around describing Saint Louis as being “First in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League.” With two of the top three breweries in the United States located in Saint Louis, and the industry-leading Brown Shoe Company founded in 1875 also there, all that was needed to complete the joke was a lousy  American League professional baseball team. The Saint Louis Browns met that requirement easily, having only 11 winning seasons over 51 seasons played).

Ultimately Falstaff was the victim of beer industry consolidation throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, but held on grudgingly and usually as a “low price” brand, not discontinuing production until 2005. (Recollection #3 — Falstaff’s “price brand” days were in full swing when I was coming out of high school and taking a razor blade and glue to my paper drivers license to masquerade as of legal drinking age 21, when I was in fact only 18. I remember one weekend when Falstaff was on special at the local liquor store for $2.49 per 24 can case. That works out to about a dime a can of beer, and even in 1963 that was a deal).

“Those were the days my friends. We thought they’d never end.” Mary Hopkin 1968

 

 

 

 

Another venerable gasoline brand bites the dust…but its toy trucks keep rolling.

A few days ago, a friend called the news below to my attention. Kinda made my eyes water, as I thought about the old “Seven Sisters” and the many gasoline brands (Gulf, Marathon, Texaco, Conoco Phillips, etc.) they used to market (not including Hess, as it wasn’t one of world’s seven largest oil companies).

hessstationHess Corporation announced it was divesting itself of its retail gasoline stores. The move will affect 1,350 gas stations—many owned by Hess itself—that operate in 18 states on the Eastern Seaboard. The gas stations serve as many as 1.3 million customers a day.”

Hess was never a large NATIONAL gasoline retailer in the United States, but in the 50’s it probably had nearly 5,000 stations in New England and Eastern Seaboard states. This at a time, when the nation’s largest nationwide retailer, Texaco, had 15,000 stations in what were then 48 states. Although marketing in a smaller geography, Hess as a regional marketer, had a sizable brand franchise, especially when one considers the population then was skewed in many ways to the North East and Middle Atlantic.

Well, anyway…that was then…this is now and Hess stations will be no more. OK, so you won’t be able to buy “Hess” gasoline anymore, but you can still get the brand’s toy trucks for the holidays.

1997-hess_truck

 

 

 

The “little toy trucks” for Hess and other gasoline retailers live on as collectibles and brand mementos. Texaco may have originated this particular marketing tactic sometime in the 50’s or earlier, but many of the gasoline players adopted it. I never bought one; maybe I was just not into “toy” vehicles, preferring instead to burn ants with my magnifying glass, or later throw firecrackers at the minnows we attracted to our chumming with crackers at Winter’s Pond.

OK, so I was a strange lad, but if you want a Hess toy truck, aside from the obvious eBay or Amazon, there’s actually a Hess Toy Store where you can shop online www.hesstoystore.com/ .

Not sure they sell magnifying glasses, though.