thoughts, theories, observations & informationSubscribe Now


sweetRemember Snapple?  A little over a decade ago, Snapple stormed onto the scene, devouring market share, creating clever commercials and ad campaigns, and causing quite a commotion in the beverage industry.  Not since Wine Coolers had we seen such a disruption.  Well, over time, Snapple sort of faded into the crowd of other beverages, garnering a nice share of the market and serving a loyal group of consumers.  Recently,  my friend Bill sent me an article stating that Snapple was trying to shake up the beverage world yet again, this time by announcing it would be removing high fructose corn syrup from its products and replacing it with Sugar.

Now Pepsi is getting in on the act, by releasing Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback – both of which will revert to the formula from the 60’s and 70’s which used sugar instead of HFCS.  The official word is that these are just short term “promotional” drinks, which will be removed from the shelves in June.  My guess would be that they are trial balloons to see if: 1.) people like the taste of sugar better and will buy the stuff.  2.) there will be any backlash by those in corn producing states.  I think the strategy is a good one.  It allows them to test the market and generate a huge amount of buzz without risk of losing people who prefer the current HFCS version of the drinks.

Why would they change from HFCS to sugar anyway?


Many believe that HFCS is responsible for child obesity and other health issues.  I am not sure if it is less harmful than sugar, but I do know that HFCS is seemingly in everthing.  Check your fridge.  Unless you avoid it intentionally, it is probably one of the first 3 ingredients in 80% of your food.  I have yet to find ketchup that does not have it.  While it seems odd to use the inclusion of sugar as a health benefit, such is the world in which we live.  The nutritional merits of sugar vs high fructose corn syrup are still being debated, and quite frankly if you are slamming down 3 or 4 Pepsi’s a day, you are not that concerned about the health effects of HFCS anyway.

If Pepsi throwback is a success, look for the move to sugar to be something like the next Atkins diet.   Coke will follow by releasing their sugar version more broadly.  Then the movement will leap to another food category – say salad dressing or yogurt.  Then another – maybe breakfast cereal.  Pretty soon marketers will be telling you that “pure, natural” sugar not only tastes better and is  healthier for you – true or not.  Perception is reality.  If the perception that sugar is better for you than HFCS catches on, you will be quickly innundated with this message.


Face it, times are tough.  A huge part of the appeal of Pepsi Throwback or Coke with sugar will be to take younger Boomers and Gen Xer’s back to the “Good Old Days.”  This tends to happen in tough economic times.  People yearn for the simple days gone by.  Simple products from those simple times help to provide a sense of comfort and normalcy in a crazy world. These drinks be marketed to “take you back to the good old days” of recyclable glass bottles with a 10 cent deposit fee and hippies holding hands, drinking coke, and singing in the fields.   Peace and prosperity brought to you by Sugar.

“I’d like to buy the world some sugar, and keep it company.”


Taste presents an intersting challenge.  For the Boomers and Gen Xer’s out there, the taste of sugar sodas may harken back to years gone by.  Sugar drinks tend to be a little sweeter than their HFCS counterparts.  Sugar drinks also seem to have a different consistency than those with HFCS.  They are thinner and fizzier.  The problem is that for decades people have gotten used to these drinks as they currently exist.  Sure some will love the move back to sugar and all that comes with it, but for many this will be an unwelcome departure.  The drinks are different, and sometimes different is not good.  (Remember New Coke?)  Thus Pepsi is taking a smart strategy by rolling this out as a limited time extension of the existing brand.  It is a real time focus group.  Who is buying it?  Why?  How much are they buying?  Should we create a new brand for it?  Should this continue on as a seasonal item like the summertime fruit flavors?  All questions that Pepsi can answer in the coming months.  For Snapple, there is more benefit in the buzz of  just blowing up the old HFCS brand and moving to the new.  For Pepsi, I think the gradual move strategy is sound.

A few months back I waxed poetic about a wonderful experience I had enjoying a bottle (glass bottle) of Cheerwine ( softdrink from the Carolinas) at City BBQ.  This particular beverage was made with real cane sugar and was about the tastiest thing I had drank in decades, beer excluded of course.  Fizzy, fruity, and not at all syrupy.  Delicious.  I enjoyed it so much, I went on to write a blog post stating that If I Were in Charge of Coke / Pepsi, I would introduce real sugar beverages back into the market.  Now that Pepsi is doing just that, I am excited to see how the market responds.

I enjoy a soda from time to time, and as a Gen Xer, I will be happy to enjoy a sugary treat and harken back to the innocence and simplicity of my youth with a pure, natural beverage 🙂

Now time for me to get another cup of coffee – black.