Boldly flavored sparkling juices and European sodas are bubbling up the beverage section.
The often all-natural and sometimes imported carbonated soft drinks are becoming welcome refreshment for upscale consumers when fortified versions of traditional colas — and other bubbly beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup — just won't do.
“These drinks aren't necessarily going to overtake other categories, because they're a bit more expensive than a mainstream drink, but there is a market for them with premium-oriented consumers,” noted Gary Hemphill, managing director of the New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp.
The gourmet beverages are appealing to a certain segment of United Supermarkets' shoppers, according to Suman Lawrence, living well business manager for the Plano, Texas-based chain.
“Members of the healthy crowd are choosing these drinks because they have cleaner ingredients and they're lower in sugar,” she said. “They may not be the healthiest beverages, but they're healthier than a lot of other carbonated soft drinks. They're also trendy because they come in bold flavors, support social causes and they're used as alcohol mixers.”
United's fizzy array includes Lorina Sparkling Lemonade from France, San Pellegrino sparkling fruit beverages from Italy, and IZZE, Switch, Crystal Geyser and Martinelli's sparkling fruit juices. It recently stopped carrying a British soda called Belvoir Presse due to lackluster sales, and it's considering offering essn, a sparkling beverage made from 100% varietal fruits. The essn line comes in exotic flavors including Fuji Apple, Meyer Lemon, Blood Orange & Cranberry, Minneola Tangerine, and Pomegranate & Montmorency Cherry.
“Lorina does really well and its bottle is cute, so it gets a lot of attention,” said Lawrence. “Switch is hit or miss, but Crystal Geyser's done well, and IZZE has also done fairly well because it comes in great flavors and it's gotten a lot of press.”
Twelve-ounce bottles of IZZE contain a single serving of fruit and consist of 30% sparkling water and 70% of either apple, blueberry, clementine, grapefruit, pear or pomegranate juice. The drink also appeals to the socially aware. IZZE bottles feature a message about how the IZZE Beverage Co. funds and manages Project Reach, which provides education-based development for farm workers and their families in the communities where IZZE buys its fruit.
JUICE OR SODA?
Bubbly beverages with anything less than 100% juice are relegated to United's soda section, while 100% juice sparkling drinks are merchandised beside fizz-free juices. The 50-store chain also keeps a few varieties in cold cases beside its in-store coffee bars for in-store or on-the-go consumption.
Sales in that area may spur traffic to United's beverage aisle.
“The greatest amount of business with these drinks is from single-serve purchases for on-the-go consumption,” noted Hemphill. “Those who try them and decide they really like them move to the next phase, which is multipack purchases for at-home enjoyment.”
Price influences trial at United.
“Anything that sells in the $1 to $1.29 range does really well,” Lawrence said, “while drinks that are $1.99 or more are a little tougher to sell, especially here in Texas, where people are partial to ready-to-drink teas.”
Because they share a low-key sweetness profile with RTD teas, European sodas are gaining appeal with United's shoppers, noted Lawrence.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets' imported carbonated drink selection consists of Lorina Sparkling Lemonade, which is distributed to a limited number of Publix stores, and Orangina, a carbonated drink made from oranges and tangerines, also from France. It's available in about 300 of Publix's nearly 900 stores, according to the chain's spokeswoman, Maria Brous. Orangina's maker recently switched out its high-fructose corn syrup ingredient for sugar.
IZZE drinks and Lorina Sparkling Lemonades are merchandised in Publix's 8- to 12-foot New Age Beverage sections alongside ready-to-drink teas and energy drinks.
Martinelli's and Welch's sparkling juices are merchandised in the juice section at Publix.
Glass vessels and other upscale packaging features are spurring first-time purchases at Glastonbury, Conn.-based Highland Park Market.
“We carry three different types of Lorina Sparkling Lemonades. They have a fancy flip-top, and I think that intrigues people and influences initial impulse purchases,” said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for the six-store chain. “They don't fly out of here, but people who try them are definitely return customers.”
The sparkling lemonade, which has been manufactured with spring water, lemons and beet sugar in the Moselle region of France since 1895, also sells well at Town & Country Markets' Central Market in Poulsbo, Wash.
“We've done tremendous business with Lorina Sparkling Lemonades,” said Andrew Gagner, grocery buyer for the retailer.
At Highland Park Market, Martinelli's Sparkling Cider and Welch's Sparkling White Grape Juice Cocktail are fruit basket fillers that also sell particularly well on their own during the winter holiday season.
“People buy them for the kids to drink on occasions like New Year's Eve and for graduations,” noted Cummiskey.
Although he acknowledged that IZZE Sparkling Juice is a good product, limited shelf space and demand inhibit his ability to carry them.
“I plan to [source] them in the future, but right now there is a bit of a space issue and I've got other products that take precedence,” he said. “For instance, [Glaceau] VitaminWater is doing extremely well, and no customers are asking for IZZE at the moment.”
Indeed, demand for sparkling juices and imported sodas is premature in certain regions.
“We've dabbled in these lines, but we're a bit behind the national curve, since we're not doing much with them now,” conceded Russ Martin, corporate category manager for 13-store Yoke's Fresh Market, Spokane, Wash. “We're continuing expansion of our natural, organic and specialty imported drinks selections, but we're about a year away from getting into that.”
Dollar sales improved in all of the top beverage categories with the exception of carbonated soft drinks.
Wine was the only category that improved upon last year's unit sales, while dollar sales of milk climbed most dramatically.
|CATEGORY||$ SALES*||% CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO||UNIT SALES*||% CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO|
|Source: Information Resources Inc. |
*Sales in food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Wal-Mart) for the four weeks that ended Aug. 12.