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Psychoanalyzing Nestle’s Nesfluid nightmare: ‘Brand promised something for everyone, appealed to almost no-one’

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By Ben Bouckley+

Last updated on 24-Jun-2014 at 17:05 GMT

Julian Mellentin said Nesfluid blundered in offering a 'soup' of nutrition and hydration
Julian Mellentin said Nesfluid blundered in offering a 'soup' of nutrition and hydration

Functional foods expert Julian Mellentin says Nestle’s failed health drink Nesfluid was a confusing launch promising nutrition, hydration and an alphabet soup of health benefits in a dubious-tasting beverage range.

In a new report penned for New Nutrition Business (NNB), 'Failures in Functional Foods and Beverages', director Mellentin (pictured below) runs the rule over 19 recent functional food and beverage launches commonly reckoned to be failures, one of which is the world’s biggest food firm’s late 2010 launch Nesfluid.

The report also explores blunders from other big companies – Minute Maid Heart Wise cholesterol lowering orange juice and Unilever’s pro.activ blood pressure-lowering dairy drink are discussed as other functional ‘failures’ - as Mellentin aims to help firms avoid costly mistakes by studying where things went wrong.

His Top 5 failure factors are (1) Undue reliance on a health benefit (2) Overestimating the potential market (3) Targeting the mass market too soon (4) Brand/benefit/format mismatch (5) Failure to manage shareholder expectations in large firms that a ‘successful’ product should quickly be mass market with $100m+/year sales.

€10m+ spent on advertising but product soon pulled

“Nestle’s launch of Nesfluid was a textbook example of a brand whose marketers ignored every lesson about launching products with health benefits,” Mellentin writes.

“Even though the product was competitively priced and supported by a huge marketing investment, it achieved very modest sales and was withdrawn within 18 months of launch,” he adds.

Nesfluid was launched in France in September 2010 at a competitive €1.85/250ml bottle, and Mellentin says Nestle spent €10-12m on advertising and marketing a brand that clocked a paltry €3m in sales in its first year, he said, although it had retail penetration of 80%.

Despite a well-proven rule that multiple messages are muddled, and that successful brands start with a clear, single health benefit targeted at a receptive group, Mellentin says Nesfluid did the opposite.

Nestle attempted to jump straight into the mass market with a range of six products embodying its ‘big idea’, he says, which involved combining hydration and nutrition using coconut water blended with whey protein.

Added ingredients – fruit juice, plant extracts, vitamins and minerals – varied according to each flavor variety offering a specific benefit.

‘Something wrong with almost every aspect of this brand’: Industry exec

Renforce was for bones and immunity, Equilibre for fluid balance, Vitalise for physical and intellectual vitality, Rayonne for cell protection, Body for lipid metabolism and Protect for anti-ageing.

Despite exhaustive advertising and a ‘Nesfluid Tour’ of France where potential customers gained free sessions with sports and wellness specialists, the brand flopped, and Mellentin says one food industry executive even told him: “There seems to be something wrong with every aspect of this brand.”

Dissecting the still-twitching Nesfluid corpse in more detail, Mellentin says that pairing nutrition (satiety associated with food) and hydration (refreshment linked to beverages) was a difficult proposition for consumers to swallow.

And consumers didn't care about hydration...

More embarrassingly, Nestle’s own press release supporting Nesfluid said its consumer survey showed that only 6% of people interviewed considered hydration a key factor for 'well being'.

If nutrition and hydration taken together were hard to swallow, Mellentin said the drink itself was too, quoting an executive at a flavor house unconnected with the Nesfluid launch telling NNB that the taste “was as if the product development wasn’t finished”.

Only cocoa-flavored variety Renforce gained a positive score in that house’s consumer taste tests, Mellentin writes, observing archly that such a launch was especially unwise in France – the most taste-focused market in Europe.

Summing up, Mellentin says the Nesfluid name was too technical and medical and the range itself tried to sell too many messages to the consumer.

“Every truly successful brand – from Red Bull to Fiber One to Pom Wonderful to Danone Activia – is successful because it focuses on a single clear message,” he writes in the report .

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