What is it? It’s a craft cola or ‘kola’ inspired by Pepsi’s 19th century lab-based boffin Caleb Bradham that fuses Fair Trade cane sugar (29g/10oz bottle), natural kola nut extract from Africa , a secret spice blend and a ‘hint of citrus’, with “just the right amount of carbonation resulting in a distinct foamy head”.
What’s so special about it? Caleb’s promises that the kola nut’s natural flavor (through use of the extract) is the “key ingredient”, while unrefined cane sugar “gives our kola just the right touch of sweetness” and the secret spice blend lends the soda its unique flavor. Not forgetting the citrus notes.
“The oils from the citrus fruit give Caleb’s Kola a sharp flavor and amazing freshness that you won’t find in other kola,” according to the Caleb’s website.
Why is Pepsi launching it? Your guess is as good as mine, since the company is keeping schtum on the launch thus far. Here are my guesses – yours might be better, so tell me below...
With sales of full-sugar soda flat-lining in the US and leakage out of diets, one product line that has performed well for Pepsi is its ‘Real Sugar’ line in mini (7.5oz) cans; mid-calorie launch Pepsi Next hasn't been the storming success the firm hoped it would be, and looks set to be replaced by stevia-sweetened launch Pepsi True, which emphasizes its 'real cola taste'.
Simply put, full sugar isn’t the bugaboo we’re told by marketers it is for many people. A significant proportion of the cola drinkers aren't unduly fazed by high levels (and shun diets on health or taste grounds), while others prefer to stick with full sugar choices but simply cut their consumption – N.B. Americans now drink 44 gallons of soda per year, a 17% fall off a 1998 peak.
So take the ‘Real Sugar’ authenticity pitch to the other ingredients in the bottle, keep in mind the desire for smaller serving sizes (or at least a desire among consumers to treat themselves to cola, rather than guzzle it at all hours), and stick your liquid in a smart 284ml glass bottle that borrows cues from craft beer...
‘Presto!’ You’ve got a product that could create new cola cred with trend-setting millennials and help you build margin, which is especially important in a tight cola category fight between the Reds and the Blues that must sometimes feel like it's a race to the bottom in terms of value, and one's values.
Nonetheless, Pepsi should remember that it’s vital to be craft not crafty – consumers are pretty cute in this respect – and that scale (if Caleb’s Kola proves successful) brings its own problems in terms of maintaining price and authenticity.
Where can I buy it? Select Costco wholesale stores in New York, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C, although Beverage Digest, which broke news of the launch, said Pepsi (which refused to comment yesterday) plans to make it available to other retailers. Got a bottle? Tell us what it tastes like!
How much does it cost? We don’t know. But expect to pay a premium against standard offerings. That said, if the cost differential is considerable then we wonder if the touted target market (millennials) will jump on Caleb Kola given that cola has become (A) ubiquitous (B) low cost.
Mind you, a lot depends on channel management. The Caleb’s website mentions bourbon cocktails. Could this be Pepsi’s answer to Fever Tree, as an upscale mixer sold through on premise outlets and in higher end grocery stores?
Should this excite me? Not as much as a man on the moon or the end of apartheid, but it is a bold move by a big soda player, and an interesting acknowledgment that cola can win by being less ubiquitous and all pervading. It looks more like a treat with a trendy back story and (undoubtedly) a higher price point, with nods towards batch production, authenticity, quality and naturalness. It'll be fascinating to see if Coke follows suit with something similar.