How to choose winners in an ever-expanding drink category

Remember when, not so long ago, there were frequent launches of new products that did not have homes in the traditional liquid refreshment beverage (LRB) categories? Changing consumer priorities and shopping trends triggered a hefty surge in product innovation, and voila, the “New Age” category was born. As it developed, some products fell into the Tea/Juice Drink category and some into Enhanced Water, but most have become just memories.

cold vault customer

In about a month, many will wander the booths at NACS and see a multitude of these New Age products for the first and last time. Some of these products will end up in the vaults, while a few may end upleading future growth and creating new categories. The challenge is determining which are which! To help zero in on the winners and ignore the soon-to-be departed, here are a few questions to keep in mind as while exploring new options.

First, how is the product being supported outside of the store? If it’s a big brand, like Dr Pepper, a new flavor launch like Dark Berry is likely to be supported by social and traditional media. But even if it is a new brand, it should have some type of support—like Core Water’s celebrity endorsements or High Brew’s concert and festival activations, for example. Building awareness for a product has to start outside of the vault.

Second, consider what unique shopper need the product fills.  Canada Dry, for instance, is chosen by consumers who are looking for relaxation. This is unlike most carbonated soft drinks, which shoppers purchase as a treat. By creating Canada Dry Ginger Ale & Lemonade, the trademark amplified its ability to meet that need for relaxation, and has had tremendous success in the channel. Similarly, Bai hit the sweet spot by creating beverages that taste great and are low in calorie with no artificial sweeteners.

After retailers have picked their winner, there is one more critical step to getting the most out of the innovation: making sure shoppers can find it. Is there potential to put the product front and center in the vault? If not, does it inspire ideas for creative use of your other tools, such as promotions and signage? Often, innovation items end up lost somewhere on the top shelf or hidden in the well, so improving their visibility carries an obvious advantage.

These days, almost 600 new products are launched in the channel every year (IRI 2017)—that’s two times more product than the average cold vault can contain! With these kinds of numbers, it seems like retailers need a crystal ball to find the winners. But by focusing on outside support, unique shopper needs, and product visibility, it can be easier to separate the rising stars from other products that, while they might be interesting, have lower overall potential for future growth.

This post is sponsored by Keurig Dr Pepper

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