PepsiCo is gearing up for a possible roll-out of its new mid-calorie cola Pepsi NEXT in the first quarter of next year.
The firm, which has been fielding calls about a reported move into the US yogurt category this week, did not mention Pepsi NEXT during a call with analysts about its Q3 results last week.
However, a spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-USA this morning: "We have had encouraging anecdotal feedback from trials in Iowa and Wisconsin, but in the next couple of months we will be analysing much more detailed data from Symphony IRI. We will then make a decision about a rollout, which could be to a broader regional test market or a full-scale national rollout, probably towards the end of the first quarter of 2012."
Sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, Acesulfame K and sucralose, Pepsi NEXT was “created for consumers who seek the rich taste of full-calorie cola” but have “not adopted the flavor profile of a zero calorie cola”.
If at first you don’t succeed…
But it tasted very different to previous, unsuccessful, mid-calorie products Pepsi Edge and Pepsi XL, she stressed.
“Our beverage R&D team formulated NEXT with the right mix of cola flavor notes and a combination of four sweeteners to more closely mimic the taste curve of a full-sugar soda on your tongue.
“Pepsi Edge, for example was sweetened by a combination of two artificial sweeteners.”
PepsiCo has said little about Pepsi NEXT since trials began in the summer, but said early feedback had been “very favourable” at the Barclays Back to School Consumer conference in Boston last month.
Some consumers will not compromise
The drink, which contains 60% fewer calories than regular Pepsi (60 cals in a 12oz can), follows several abortive attempts by Pepsi to appeal to customers that like the taste of full sugar colas but want to cut calories, including Pepsi XL, which failed to inspire in the mid 1990s, and Pepsi Edge, which was launched in 2004 but axed a year later.
“Historically, consumers have had to choose between zero calorie and full calorie soft drinks”, chief financial officer High Johnston told delegates at the Barclays conference. “Some have been unwilling to compromise on taste and as a result, left the category completely. We need to break this paradigm.”
Do we need mid-calorie drinks?
While PepsiCo clearly believes there is money to be made in mid-calorie cola, many market watchers remain skeptical, despite the success of mid-cal products such as Trop50, Pepsi’s reduce sugar juice under the Tropicana brand.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the SupplySide East trade show in May, Datamonitor product launch analytics director Tom Vierhile said: “They keep trying it, so they must be convinced there is a market for it, but I am just not sure that the need is there.
“There have been such improvements in sweeteners and flavor technology in recent years that you can create zero calorie beverages now that taste just as good.”
Responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) claiming that PepsiCo is working with German firm Müller to introduce yogurts into the US market under a new brand, a spokesman said bosses preferred “not to comment on rumors or speculation about our future plans”.
However, it posted the WSJ article on its website and added: "Since forming the Global Nutrition Group to accelerate the growth of our nutrition portfolio, we constantly look at product innovation and partner offerings to help us achieve this mission.”