Meridian Beverage Co. has found its niche in low-calorie flavored bottled
waters, but rather than a specialty category, it believes its products have
a healthy, mainstream appeal.
“We provide great-tasting, healthy,
non-carbonated beverages with little to no sugar,” says Steve
Lovinger, president of the Atlanta-based company.
It’s a slightly different proposition than the
company started with. When Lovinger founded the company in 1992, his goal
was to create an innovative spot in the non-carbonated single-serve
convenience store market. It began with spring waters, and soon added a
sweetened flavored water called Meridian Clear, a children’s fruit
drink called Fruit Craze Jr. and a no-calorie flavored water called
But about three years ago, the company realized that
low-calorie products were the way of the future and it reformulated several
of its brands to reduce or eliminate sugar. It particularly wanted to
reduce the sugar content of its kids’ beverages, and last year
reduced the number of calories in its Fruit Craze Jr. product by half. The
product is a 10 percent fruit juice product, with 100 percent of the
recommended daily intake of vitamin C as well as B vitamins, in an 8-ounce
“I was very proud of changing that
formula,” says Lovinger. “We’re saving kids 60 million
calories a month on our product. It’s a step in the right
It also reformulated Meridian Clear to eliminate about
40 percent of the sugar it previously had.
But AquaCal is Meridian’s flagship product these
days. It is a sugar-free, Splenda-sweetened flavored water, with calcium
and vitamin C.
“What differentiates AquaCal is that it is
full-flavored, with an adult sweetness level rather than an essenced
flavored water, which is what everyone else is doing,” says Lovinger.
“Our flavor is more akin to a diet soft drink.”
Lovinger says the
positioning of AquaCal allows it to appeal to consumers who are looking for
a flavored bottled water as well as those who drink full-sugar or diet soft
drinks but are looking for another option.
While Meridian’s focus has shifted in large part
to better-for-you products, it is not interested in organic or 100-percent
“I’m going for mainstream products,”
Lovinger says. “If you look at leaders in the beverage categories
— beer, soft drinks, bottled waters — they are popular-priced,
A unique philosophy
Meridian Beverage Co. got its name from a lofty idea.
“The name Meridian means highest point,” says Lovinger.
“Our initial mission statement was to help all parties, including our
consumers, retailers, wholesalers and our team reach their meridian. I am
adamant about 100 percent honesty and dealing on an ethical
Lovinger says his business philosophy can be summed up
in the phrase “balanced self interest,” rather than
“greed is good,” and says it resulted from coming of age during
the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“I believed in the ideals that my generation was
espousing, and I kept to them,” he says.
That’s not to say he’s against having a
profitable business. The company Lovinger says began on his credit card has
had steady growth for several years. Lovinger is the primary shareholder,
but all of the key people within the company hold stock. “Everybody
in the company from me to the truck driver gets a monthly bonus based on
case sales,” he says. “That’s because I want everyone to
be focused on sales and customer service.”
In addition to honing in on healthier beverages,
Meridian has expanded its focus from its original single-serve convenience
store offerings to grocery, mass merchandise and drug store channels as
well as some school distribution. It has distribution in 48 states, and
takes an “every day low price” strategy in most retail
“My goal is to provide premium, healthy,
mainstream products in upscale, attractive, affordable packaging,”
says Lovinger. “That’s why we’ve been
Meridian ran its first newspaper FSI advertising last
year, and this year plans four more in select markets, particularly in its
Southeast and Mid-Atlantic territories. It also teams with charitable
groups for marketing. “We love to provide product for charitable
causes where we can do two things — support the charities and get our
product sampled,” Lovinger says.
Juvenile diabetes is a favorite cause, but Lovinger
says the company is interested in just about any cause related to children.
For the future, Lovinger says there are new products
on the drawing board, but declines to give details, saying only that they
are in the same vein as Meridian’s current line-up. In the meantime he says, “We’re trying to make a difference in health. I’m proud that we are a
positive influence in the beverage industry.” BI
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