Coca-Cola’s specialty sodas pop up outside the pop aisle

The beverage behemoth is intentionally 'hiding' its new craft, glass bottle offerings 'in plain sight.'

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From a distance the pop aisle of most grocery stores looks like a game of Tetris: colourful boxes (and bottles and cans) crammed up against one another fighting for shoppers’ attention.

Sampling Footprint

So for the launch of six specialty sodas in Canada, Coca-Cola opted out of being next to rows and rows of competitors, instead choosing to be strategically placed in unusual areas, such as near the cash register in a Rexall shop or near the charcuterie station in a Loblaw-owned store in downtown Toronto.

The sodas, which are presented in “premium-looking glass bottles with artwork,” feature cane sugar and natural ingredients meant to lure in craft-beer loving, kombucha-swilling “trendy urban millennials,” Carolyn Harty, group brand director of sparkling beverages for Coca-Cola Canada, told strategy in an email interview.

“More and more [retailers] have created a specialty soda section… We were very keen to be part of this section as it would help consumers understand the craftsmanship that went into these flavours,” said Harty. “Consumers also told us in research that there is a satisfaction that comes with discovering new products for themselves – therefore, having these specialty products ‘hiding in plain sight’ in a new part of the store was a deliberate strategy to allow our target to experience the chase.”

While many Baby Boomers grew up going to soda shops and would routinely buy large cases of pop for the household, the children of those Boomers (millennials) often reach for more unique options. Soft drink consumption has been falling flat for years in North America, due primarily to a greater focus on health, particularly among younger people, with a study led by the Heart and Stroke Foundation finding that between 2003 and 2015 soft drink sales decreased by 27% in Canada, followed by fruit drinks (-22%) and 100% fruit juice (-10%). In contrast, during the same time frame, sales increases were seen among energy drinks (+638%), sweetened coffees (+579%) and flavoured water (+527%).

In recent years, Coca-Cola has responded to changing tastes and net sales rose 6% in the most recent quarter, with the company attributing the rise to a 4% volume and transaction growth in Coke’s namesake brand globally. Its Zero Sugar line also saw double-digit volume growth worldwide, with its CEO telling analysts that close to 25% of Coca-Cola’s revenue now comes from new or reformulated beverages, up from 15% in 2017.

Traditional soft drink sellers, including Coca-Cola as well as rivals such as PepsiCo and Schweppes, have been aggressively marketing alternatives, from Pepsi’s Bubly sparkling water brand to Schweppes’ new zero sugar and zero calorie sparkling sodas, this year in Canada and beyond.

Coca-Cola first introduced two “local flavours,” Coca-Cola Georgia Peach and Coca-Cola California Raspberry, as well as Coca-Cola de México, in 2018 in the U.S. Then the Canadian arm launched the Georgia and México flavours here this spring, but it put a local twist on the raspberry option, with Coca-Cola British Columbia Raspberry. Canada also launched three Barq’s offerings that are only available here, including Barq’s Crafted Root Beer, Barq’s Crafted Cream Soda and Barq’s Crafted Spiced Cherry.

StackerThe six specialty sodas are permanent offerings, but in keeping with the crafted feel, the products are intentionally only available in select grocery and convenience stores, as well as food-service outlets, in urban areas where the millennial target is more likely to live, explained Harty.

“We did months of research on our target market… and learned a lot about their views on craft products,” said Harty. “The two important things they shared were that they are constantly looking for new flavour experiences, especially with natural ingredients; and how the product looks and feels both on shelf and in their hand greatly impacts their purchase decision.”

Also in keeping with the craft offering, there is no traditional mass marketing campaign for the new product launch, said Harty. Instead, through the summer, there will be “some very small-scale product seeding and micro-influencer outreach to ensure that our target are seeing and trying these flavours in an environment they are familiar with and trust.”

Packaging of the specialty sodas was done by Perennial, point-of-sale was handled by LPI and Hill + Knowlton Strategies led public relations.