The most popular non-alcoholic beverage in the U.S. isn’t coffee, tea or water – it’s soda. And while it’s not likely to relinquish that title any time soon, the category has, according to some experts, peaked in popularity and is not retreating slightly.
As Americans seek healthier options (and the media seeks a scapegoat for expanding waistlines), sales of carbonated soft drinks declined in 2011. Regular soda (the largest soft drink segment) took a 2% hit, while diet soda fell by 2.1%.
Faced with these numbers, the best growth strategy might be the development of bold soda flavors to bring excitement back to a flat category. That’s exactly what some small-scale manufacturers are doing, as they churn out some unique soft drink flavors. The result: Double digit growth for the gourmet soda category in each of the last five years.
Below are a few options we’d like to try. If anyone has sampled these varieties (or something like them), leave a comment with your thoughts.
Maine Root – The Texas-based company has been churning out Fair Trade Certified, organically-sweetened soft drinks for only six years, but they’ve already gained a loyal following thanks to distribution in Whole Foods and other locations. Varieties include Blueberry, Pumpkin Pie, Ginger Brew and Mexicane Cola (a classic cola sweetened with fair trade organic sugar).
Jelly Belly Gourmet Soda – Bottled by Wit Beverage Company, this carbonated take on the popular jelly beans includes flavors like Crushed Pineapple (does it taste crushed?), French Vanilla, Juicy Pear and Strawberry Jam.
Jones Soda Co. – Jones has been making soda for more than 20 years, which makes them a veteran in the gourmet soft drink industry. Current flavors include Blue Bubblegum, Watermelon, Kiwi and Strawberry Lime, but the Seattle-based company has made waves in the past with limited edition Thanksgiving flavors like Turkey & Gravy, Mashed Potatoes & Butter, and Green Bean Casserole.
Jarritos – This Mexican soft drink maker, often sold in single bottles in the “Imported” section of your local grocery store, has been making soda since 1950. Although the flavors are relatively normal by south-of-the-border standards, they’re anything but normal to consumers in the United States. Options include Grapefruit, Guava, Mango and Hibiscus.
MARKETING LESSON: Unusual flavors may not bring in huge sales, but they will attracts plenty of new consumers to an otherwise declining category.