Special edition: Fizzing up carbonates
Cola goes craft: Gusto confronts preconceptions with organic, Fairtrade and low calorie craft brand
Positioning itself as the first organic, Fairtrade and low calorie cola, Gusto Cola was developed by Green & Black’s founder Craig Sams. He told BeverageDaily.com that the popularity of cola shows no signs of abating – and so Gusto aims to “do everything in cola in the best possible way.”
That means creating the beverage from cola nuts, organic lemon juice (instead of phosphoric acid), cane sugar, stevia leaf extract, and agave inulin. It has 49 calories per can, and counts Madagascan vanilla, neroli, cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander among its ingredients.
And – having founded organic chocolate company Green & Blacks in 1991 – Sams says he is applying some of the lessons learnt from the chocolate to Gusto Cola.
Caffeine and sugar
Gusto cola has the same amount of caffeine as other colas, but this is sourced from the cola nut (rather than manufactured synthetically).
Sams says this means the product has four different types of natural caffeine, resulting in a gentler release.
“If you bought a chocolate bar without cocoa beans, you’d be disappointed. We feel the energy source, the caffeine, should be cola [beans],” he said.
“But instead of hitting you in ten minutes, it hits you over an hour or so. It’s a slow, timed release.”
Gusto developed a sweetening combination - cane sugar, calorie-free stevia leaf extract, and agave inulin (all organic) – for its beverage.
Organic stevia varieties are limited, and these exacerbate the taste and mouthfeel challenges of stevia, Sams said. It was one of the challenges in creating the cola.
The resulting sweetening blend means the beverage has around a third of the calories of regular colas, added Sams.
While studies have suggested phosphoric acid could increase the risk of osteoporosis, Gusto turns that on its head by omitting the acid and including organic agave inulin (which it says promotes efficient calcium absorption).
Lessons from Green & Blacks
Sams wants to see Gusto Cola positioned main aisles, offering an alternative to mainstream cola brands.
This is a lesson learned from Green & Black’s, which fought to get out of the organic section and onto the main shelves – “the last thing you want is to be in some little green corner,” said Sams.
But is there a danger consumers will tar the whole cola category with the same brush and pass over Gusto?
No, says Sams.
“In terms of packaging: with Green & Black’s, we went simple and clear. And we’ve done that with this can,” he said. Organic and Fairtrade credentials – which are key selling points - are clearly labelled on the front of the can, he added.
“This is something really different,” said Sams. “Richard Branson launched Virgin Cola [a 1994 launch which flopped], and he said the biggest mistake was that he launched a product that was almost exactly like Coke and Pepsi. He was relying on the Virgin Brand to do the heavy lifting.
“We haven’t got the Virgin Brand, but we’ve got good flavour and are pushing all the right buttons as far as addressing people’s concerns about obesity, additives, phosphoric acid, artificial colours and flavours.”
Another lesson from Green & Black’s is, quite simply, “You have to taste good.”
“I think it was about 60 attempts before we were satisfied with the flavours,” said Sams. “We kept changing our minds. It was the longest product development I’ve ever been involved in.”
Gusto was launched last month and its success so far has been promising – “but we’re not sitting too much on that because customers are always trying something new and it’s the repeat sales [that matter],” said Sams.