Big Winners in the Beverage Biz? Tap Water and Dr Pepper

Although it's tough to back-up this assumption with hard statistics, the beverage of choice in 2009 was likely good old fashioned tap water.

Steve Cole | Getty Images

According to market research firm Beverage Marketing Corp., the U.S. refreshment beverage market—which covers most non-alcoholic beverages—logged its second market decline in 2009. The research firm said beverage volume fell 3.1 percent last year, accelerating the decline registered in 2008, which had been the first down year for the industry on record.

Consumers have been shifting to healthier beverages, shying away from sweet, carbonated soft drinks toward drinks with a healthier image. This trend continued, with ready-to-drink teas and energy drinks both logging gains last year.

But consumers obviously trimmed their budgets by cutting down on buying beverages, and likely quenched their thirst at the tap.

Bottled water was once a growth engine for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, but the category has now logged two years of volume declines, according to Beverage Marketing. This shows you how fast a "hot" brand can cool. Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani were two of the fastest growing trademarks in 2007, but both brands have declined over the past two years.

No doubt part of this is the economy, but there's also been a growing stigma against bottled water as environmentally "unfriendly." Many consumers have shifted from toting around their favorited branded bottle of water to carrying along their own reusable containers filled with water, and some of that, no doubt, is from the tap.

Still, 2009 did bring some hits within the so-called "value-added water" category such has Coke's Smartwater brand, which saw volume rise 33 percent. PepsiCo's SoBe Lifewater Zero, which was launched last year, also was successful, the research firm said.

"Although 2009 was the second year in a row of unusual weakness in liquid refreshment beverages' performance, the worst may be over," said Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO, Beverage Marketing. "Beverages are likely to be one of the first categories to benefit with a job-led economic recovery because they represent an inexpensive form of pleasure."

And it also should be noted that there were some patches of growth. Although carbonated soft drinks sales fell again last year—sales fell 2.1 percent to a total of 9.4 billion cases, according to a report by industry trade magazine Beverage Digest—Dr Pepper Snapple bucked the trend and saw its share of the carbonated soft drink market climb to 16.4 percent from 15.3 percent a year ago.

Compare that with Coca-Cola, which saw its market share slip to 41.9 percent from 42. 7 percent last year, or PepsiCo, which saw its market share fall to 29.9 percent from 30.8 percent last year, Beverage Digest said.

Dr Pepper's volume rose 4.8 percent last year after being down 1.3 percent in 2008. What was the difference? There were a few.

US Liquid Refreshment Beverage Market

Percentage Change, by Volume, 2008-2009
Ready-to-Drink Tea 1.2%
Energy Drinks 0.2%
Carbonated Soft Drinks -2.3%
Bottled Water -2.7%
Fruit Beverages -3.7%
Ready-to-Drink Coffee -5.4%
Sport Drinks -12.3%
Value-Added Water -12.5%
Total Market -3.1%
source: Beverage Marketing Corp.

Dr Pepper's Crush was boosted by a distribution deal with the Pepsi bottling system. This agreement helped sales of Crush rise 377 percent to about 80 million cases, Beverage Digest said.

Dr Pepper also launched Dr Pepper Cherry in both regular and diet versions. That added about 27 million cases to its total.

And, finally, Diet Dr Pepper continued to be a strong performer. Its volume was up 4.8 percent last year, making it one of two top-10 brands to increase volume last year. (The other was Diet Mountain Dew, which logged a 4.5 percent volume increase, according to Beverage Digest.)

Coke Zero, which is not among the top 10 carbonated soft drinks, also is showing some momentum. The brand grew by 20 percent last year, according to Beverage Marketing.

Jose Luis Pelaez | Getty Images

The energy drink category also is worth watching. This had been a small, but quickly growing segment of the beverage business, but last year volume only nudged up 0.2 percent.

And, of course, the strongest percentage growth was logged by ready-to-drink teas, which saw volume rise 1.2 percent. This segment is still a very small part of the overall beverage business, and does not have any brands among the top 10 trademarks. Teas, no doubt, have a healthier halo around them than do carbonated soft drinks.

Gatorade, Pepsi's third largest beverage brand behind Pepsi and Mountain Dew, is in the midst of a major product development and advertising push.

Part of that effort will give Gatorade a more "natural " image, which a new line of products sweetened with stevia, and a line extension with "recover" products is being introduced to grab some market share back from muscle-building drinks such as Muscle Milk.

And to reinforce its connection with athletes, Gatorade also plans G Series Prod, which will be sold in GNC stores and training facilities. These efforts come as Gatorade sales have fallen 15.5 percent from 2008 to 2009.

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