New Ideas in ’04

Sarah Theodore
This year, the energy drink phenomenon continued to flourish, low-carb came and went — but left its mark, and some big hitters in the industry bent the rules with new products. As 2004 draws to a close, we’ve taken the opportunity to look back at the year, and highlight some of its stand-out products and packages. Managing Editor Jamie Popp has put together a special new products section that features the year’s most innovative products — the drinks that forged new trends, made use of new flavors and ingredients, or had an impact on the industry overall — and among the “best products” are some decidedly new ideas from large companies.
2004 has been a transition year for some beverage categories. Beer and soft drink companies, in particular, have had to face fundamental changes in consumer behavior that some had tried hard to ignore in the past. But this year, a few companies seemed to rethink category boundaries and forge new territory.
Overall, there were fewer innovative products this year than last year, according to Productscan Online, which tracks innovations in formulation, technology, positioning, packaging, new markets and merchandising. During the first 11 months of the year, 83 beverage reports qualified as innovative vs. 116 for the same period last year. But unlike some years past, it’s been the big companies that have stepped out with category-bending ideas.
Not all of the products were immediately successful. Mid-calorie C2 and Pepsi Edge soft drinks weren’t met with rousing fanfare when they were released this summer. But the products did represent a new direction in soft drinks, and one that was long overdue. In a time when the media has been obsessed with obesity, soft drink companies have, rather unfairly, taken a beating, despite their range of both diet and full-calorie products. The new mid-calorie colas have helped the industry rethink diet vs. regular, and have opened beverages to new ideas in wellness.
Cadbury Schweppes put an equally new spin on soft drinks with 7 UP Plus, a vitamin- and calcium-fortified, lower-calorie soft drink with a touch of juice. The product defies standard soft drink or juice drink definitions, and if successful, has the potential be its own new segment.
Beer companies have similarly faced stiff competition during the past several years, in this case from spirits (and spirits and energy drink mixes). This year, Anheuser-Busch faced that challenge with a surprise rollout of BE energy-enhanced beer. The cross-over product represents an entirely new direction for this traditional company.
It’s too early to determine if these products will be successful or if they will be the clear colas of their day. But it has been interesting to watch as these beverage-makers have tried to stay true to their roots while meeting very current market changes. For our part, Beverage Industry will have a few changes of its own in the upcoming year. I won’t give them away, but we’re looking forward to offering some new format and feature changes in 2005. Until then, we wish you safe and happy holidays and all the best in the new year.
Beverage Distributor of the Year — Pepsi Bottling Group
Beverage R&D — 2005 R&D survey
Packaging — Labeling materials
Category Focus — Juice and juice drinks
Marketing — Kids and teens
Special Report — Health & wellness
Category Focus — RTD coffee and tea
Marketing — P.O.P. strategies
Packaging — RFID update
Beverage R&D — Flavor survey