Clear Choices From consumers' thirst for the new and pure springs uncolored colas

January 13, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Clearly something is going on.

Marketers are introducing new products, ranging from dish detergent to garbage bags to soft drinks, that are clear. Colorless. Without dye.

Consumers who haven't already gotten a close look through one of these new products will get a sparkling opportunity during the broadcast of Super Bowl XXVII from Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 31 when the Pepsi-Cola Co. officially rolls out its new Crystal Pepsi to the theme, "You've never seen a taste like this."

There are plenty of other clear drinks on the market -- old-timers like Sprite and 7Up, newcomers like Clearly Canadian, plus bottled waters like Perrier and Saratoga. Why introduce a clear cola?

"Basically we took a traditional carbonated soft drink, a cola -- the most popular flavor in the U.S., with about 70 percent of the market -- and married that with some of the attributes of the so-called 'New Age' products," said Gary Hemphill, manager of public relations for Pepsi-Cola Co., based in Purchase, N.Y. Such products characteristically are "lighter, less sweet-tasting, with no preservatives, no caffeine and all-natural flavors," he said. Crystal Pepsi "does have a distinct cola taste," Mr. Hemphill said, "but it definitely tastes a little lighter. To me, it's not quite so sweet" as regular Pepsi.

Although cola drinks still dominate the soft drink market, Mr. Hemphill said, sales growth has slowed somewhat in recent years. "We think this is one way to add some excitement to the category."

"The soft-drink category is very flat, maybe 1 [percent] to 2 percent growth annually," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of the regional trade monthly Food World, based in Columbia. "You're looking at a category that went into overdrive in the '70s and '80s," fueled by baby boomers' developing tastes. Now, with the economy, gridlock on the shelves, competition from juice drinks and isotonics like Gatorade, he said, soft-drink makers are looking for something to stimulate the market.

But the trend toward clear colas, said Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., is "just a way of extending a product line without really doing anything. There's nothing new to this; years ago cream sodas were clear."

There may be a perception among consumers that the clear colas are New Age soft drinks, Mr. Celente said. "But it's not a New Age soft drink. The public is looking for a purer product, but taking the color out doesn't do that. Benzene or turpentine can be 'clear' products."

Crystal Pepsi is already available at some places in Baltimore, and its arrival has been heralded by a teasing banner on the wall of the company's local plant near the Jones Falls Expressway that says: "EVERYTHING WILL BE CRYSTAL CLEAR IN JANUARY."

Not to be outdone in the highly competitive beverage market, Coca-Cola Co. announced last month that it was introducing a clear version of its diet soft drink, Tab. Tab Clear is already distributed in 10 markets (Baltimore is not one of them), and the company expects to have it available nationwide by the end of the year.

"The idea of a clear cola's been around for years," said Randy Donaldson, a spokesman for Coca-Cola U.S.A. in Atlanta. "But in our case, the positioning is a little bit different than the rest of the beverage industry." Crystal Pepsi, he said, "is very much a Pepsi product, but it's positioned as an alternative, New Age kind of drink. With Tab Clear, we're not being 'clear-centric.' We're marketing it as the ultimate diet soft drink that just happens to be clear."

Tab Clear will be sweetened with the artificial sweetener aspartame, so it will be calorie-free. But, unlike Crystal Pepsi, it won't be caffeine-free.

"About 65 percent of all soft drinks sold in the U.S. are made up of just six products," said Mr. Donaldson. They include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, caffeinated Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper. "They're all caramel-colored and characterized as having a lot of flavor," he said. "Tab Clear will be positioned in the mainstream, because it's got a lot of flavor. So why did we make it clear? To appeal to those people who are experimenting in the soft-drink choices. It's another option."

It's also not difficult -- the cola formula is clear to begin with. Color is added to make traditional cola caramel-colored.

The new cola beverages join a host of other clear products on the market: clear Ivory soap (it doesn't float) and clear Ivory dish-washing liquid; clear Palmolive dish-washing detergent; clear Softsoap skin cleanser; clear Caladryl calamine lotion (the old version was neon pink); clear deodorants (billed as not leaving a white residue on skin or clothing); clear Band-aids; clear Amoco gasoline (for a "cleaner" environment); and Glad Clear garbage bags (reportedly not a hit, because people don't really want to see their trash).

What's the message here?

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