When Is A Diet Soda Not A Diet Soda?

Sparking Ice is a diet soda that goes by a different name
Sparking Ice is a diet soda that goes by a different name
Image Credit: SweatCor

It turns out that if you are a product manager who works for either Coke or Pepsi right now, things are not going so well for you. The market for their diet sodas is starting to tank. Last year sales of Coke and Pepsi diet drinks fell by 4.6% and 7.7%, respectively and that can’t look good on anyone’s product manager resume. However, the news is not all bad. Brash startup Talking Rain Beverages has a hit on their hands with their Sparkling Ice line of drinks. What are they doing right?

It Turns Out That People Are Tired Of Diet Drinks

So do you drink diet sodas? How do you feel about the diet sodas that you are drinking? If you are like most people, you are pretty much done with them. What we are seeing happen right now is that diet soda drinkers are making changes. A lot of them are switching to bottled water and unsweetened carbonated water. Another group is switching to Sparkling Ice. Sparkling Ice contains 3% fruit juice and comes in flavors such as Orange Mango, Black Raspberry, and Pomegranate Blueberry.

Another strike against today’s diet sodas is how they are sweetened. 35% of the people who responded to a survey said that they avoid sucralose which is the sweetener that is used in Diet Pepsi. 42% of the respondents said that they were avoiding the sweetener aspartame which is used in other diet sodas. Where things get just a little bit interesting here is that Sparkling Ice uses sucralose as its sweetener.

Experts are saying that consumers are experiencing both brand fatigue (who wants to see another Coke commercial?) and diet soda fatigue. Something else that is going on right now is that one of the major markets for diet sodas, millennials currently has a distrust of big brands. These factors are combining and are causing the decrease in sales of traditional diet sodas and are opening the door for competitors to enter.

What Sparkling Ice Is Doing Right

So, just between us, let us agree on something. No matter how pretty and different Sparkling Ice may look, it’s really just another diet soda. However, if they packaged and marketed it that way, then the company would be suffering through the same market downturn that has hit Coke and Pepsi. Instead, the Sparkling Ice product managers have done a number of different and interesting things that have caused their product to really take off.

First off, what is Sparkling Ice? It is an artificially-sweetened zero-calorie carbonated drink. This makes it very much like mainstream diet sodas. However, Sparkling Ice product managers have positioned their product as a fruit-flavored “sparkling water”. The Sparkling Ice bottles make an effort to play up what the Product Managers want their customers to see such as “Naturally Flavored Sparkling Water”. The product managers have also worked closely with store owners to ensure that Sparkling Ice will be positioned in the stores next to the water and not next to the diet sodas.

Sparkling Ice does have a problem in that the product is sweetened with the same chemicals that are found in other diet sodas. These are chemicals that consumers are starting to try to avoid. So far it does not seem to have affected Sparkling Ice — consumers are aware that Sparking Ice contains sucralose, but they don’t seem to care. However, the product managers have already started to take action. The company has launched a new brand called Sparkling Ice Essence which does not contain any artificial colors or sweeteners.

What All Of This Means For You

The world of beverages is a rough and tumble market for product managers to play in. Lately, it’s been tough to be a diet soda product manager because the market has been going down. Customers are just burned out when it comes to diet sodas. The exception to this rule has been a new brand called Sparkling Ice which happens to be doing quite well.

Sparkling Ice is really just another diet soda. However, how its product managers have understood their product manager job description and positioned it to really set it apart from the Coke and Pepsi products that are currently on the market is what makes it different. It is being marketed as fruit-flavored “sparkling water” and in the stores it can be found next to the water, not next to the diet sodas. The Sparkling Ice product managers realize that their customers may soon want a more natural product and so they are already rolling out a product with no artificial ingredients.

The Sparkling Ice product managers have done an excellent job of taking a product that by its product development definition is really very similar to other products that are already on the market and making it appear to be different. They are going to have to make sure that their customers remain interested in their product by introducing new flavors and promoting their all natural brand. Who knows, Sparking Ice might be the next Coke!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Sparkling Ice product managers should start to stress the diet part of their product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I can only speak for myself, but when I go food shopping I’m on a mission. I find what I’m looking for, I put it in my cart, I check out, and then I’m done. It turns out that the world is filled with a lot of people who shop differently than I do. These people actually take the time to look at what they are buying. More specifically, they look at the list of ingredients that goes into what they are buying. If it’s too long, then they won’t buy it. What this means for packaged food product managers is that they now have to find ways to change their product development definition and make their list of ingredients shorter.