Nostalgic flavors: Coca-Cola and Pepsi create buzz with throwback drinks

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Will throwback sodas resonate with consumers?
Will throwback sodas resonate with consumers?

Related tags Coca-cola Pepsi Drink

Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, Surge, and Crystal Pepsi: It may seem like a list straight out of 1995, but these flavors are helping create a beverage buzz in 2015.

Coca-Cola’s Surge, which started production originally in 1996 and stopped in 2003, came back to eagerly awaiting fans last year. The company also filed a trademark for popular Ghostbusters-related Hi-C Ecto-Cooler​, a juice box product which was available from 1987 to 2001, but has yet to announce plans for this product.

Pepsi, on the other hand, has released a small batch of Pepsi Perfect to appeal to fans of the 1989 film Back to the Future II. They also released a statement to LA Beast, a competitive eater and popular Twitter and YouTube user​, hinting at the return of Crystal Pepsi in the near future, who in turn tweeted it to his fans. 

Profit versus marketing

Howard Telford, Euromonitor EMI global beverages analyst, told BeverageDaily that this throwback trend is an “interesting phenomena”​ that may help the soda industry’s struggling sales. The industry is down about 2% for 2015 and poised to fall further, he said.

“I think it’s mainly about keeping these brands relevant,”​ he said. ”You’re keeping them fun and engaging for younger consumers, an area where they didn’t struggle in the past, but it’s becoming more of a challenge for them.

"I think they’re mainly marketing vehicles more than anything else. I don’t think they’re big volume drivers for any of these brands.”

However, Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel, told BeverageDaily that she believes there is a real opportunity to drive profits with these throwback releases.

She said they’re a great way to drive excitement surrounding the category, something sorely needed, but may also offer an opportunity to drive units, especially for older millennials who grew up with these drinks. Many of these millennials still consume at least one sugary drink daily, Sisel said, more than other age groups.

“That’s significantly more than younger millennials and even Generation X or Baby Boomers,”​ she said. “With Surge, there wasn’t an energy drink category back then [in 1996]. It was always the high caffeine beverages, those were the energy drinks. This was almost the first energy drink. It was probably before its time and it might be a great fit today.”

Will it be successful?

While Surge remains on sale in retail stores and at Burger King, will other throwbacks be successful? Sisel believes so, saying there is “something to be said about bringing back that feeling of these brands that were popular with certain groups back in the 90s.”

“They’re likely still consuming [the same kinds of drinks] right now,”​ she said. “There’s a push toward better for you beverages, but its human behavior …Older millennials are still going to be the main consumers for this; their consumption habits are not changing.”

Sisel said having these drinks around may go a long way toward targeting some of the “negative attention” ​being drawn on the soda market and “reviving that emotion, nostalgia and feeling they had back in the 90’s”.

The soda industry is one looking for high-level value, according to Telford, and that’s something these throwback certainly can give.

“These are high-value, short-term launches,”​ he said. “I think we’ll see a lot of those, throwback or otherwise. I think we’ll see a lot more experimentation with these brands … Volume growth isn’t really the metric to think of; it’s more of a marketing strategy.”

The fleeting moments with these drinks may be what helps keep people coming back for, as Sisel noted that even Surge is only available in a limited capacity across the US.

“That may be a very smart move,”​ she said. “They’re keeping it to a small consumer base, which has the most loyalty. It can be successful for them without having to put much manpower into additional marketing. There’s definite potential there.”

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