Shoppers cola to go national

Thirsty consumers who 'gotta have' a soft drink will soon have a new cola to choose from.After a 10-month trial run in Eastern Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart is preparing for the national launch of its Life Brand Cola.Isla Steinberg, Shoppers product...

Thirsty consumers who ‘gotta have’ a soft drink will soon have a new cola to choose from.

After a 10-month trial run in Eastern Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart is preparing for the national launch of its Life Brand Cola.

Isla Steinberg, Shoppers product manager on Life Brand Cola, says the national drug store chain hopes to ship product out to its 690 locations ‘before the first summer heatwave.’

Steinberg says Shoppers decided to distribute the brand nationally after an extensive blind taste-test program indicated Life Brand Cola stood up to a direct comparison with ‘the real thing.’

The taste tests, involving 23,600 consumers, were conducted Jan. 29-30 in Shoppers Drug Mart stores in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

According to Shoppers, Life Brand Cola was selected as the No. 2 preferred brand in a three-way test involving Life Brand Cola, Coke and Pepsi.

The breakdown was as follows: 33% of participants preferred Life Brand Cola; 35% preferred one of the two national brands (Shoppers will not reveal whether it was Coke or Pepsi); and 29% preferred the other national brand. Three per cent were undecided.

First cola

Shoppers launched its first private-label cola four years ago within its Red Saver line of discount private-label brands.

But last April, the firm relaunched the product as Life Brand Cola with a new up-market image and what it says in an improved formulation.

Shoppers positions its Life Brand family of products – there are about 1,500 products in all – as competitive in quality with competing national brands, at a slightly lower price.

The Red Saver line, which has been largely phased out in favor of Life Brand, is positioned as lower quality than national brands at an even lower price.

If the track record of the bottler behind Shopper’s reformulated cola is any indication, the retailer could have a runaway success on its hands.

The bottler is Atlantic Refreshments of Scoudouc, N.B., which sold a 50% interest to Cott Beverages in 1991.

Cott, based in Malton, Ont., is the country’s leading private-label bottler, responsible for such soft drink lines as President’s Choice, marketed by Loblaw International Merchants, and Master’s Choice, marketed by a&p.

In the u.s., Cott’s clientele includes the massive Wal-Mart chain, which markets soft drinks under its Sam’s Choice trademark.

Steinberg says Shoppers’ decision to reformulate its original Red Saver cola and move it up-market followed the news Cott had joined forces with Atlantic Refreshments.

‘Upon learning Cott had become involved, we went to them and asked them to create us a premium product like President’s Choice,’ Steinberg says.

According to A. C. Nielsen, private-label soft drink sales in Canada accounted for 17.4% of total supermarket sales in 1992, up 19% over 1991.

The combined market share of Pepsi-Cola Canada and Coca-Cola dropped 1% during the same period.

Cott is responsible for the bulk of the Canadian private-label market.

In an interview conducted last month, Steve Davis, vice-president of marketing for Pepsi-Cola, said brands such as President’s Choice have proven that premium-quality, private-label soft drinks have a place in the market.

But Davis adds that private-label is ‘just another segment of the market, and, in my opinion, it will reach a certain level and then flatten out.’

Steinberg notes Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola ‘are obviously not happy about Life Brand, but the private-label category is growing, and there is nothing they can do.’

‘They have built up such a costly infrastructure, they just can’t play ball,’ she says.

Although Shoppers has yet to draw up a national marketing plan for Life Brand Cola, Steinberg says consumers will learn about it via flyers and in-store advertising.

She adds it is possible the product will also be supported by tv advertising as part of Shoppers’ on-going campaign in support of its Life Brand products.