In the beginning, there were the wine snobs. Then came the craft beer snobs. Now, Pepsico is out to create a whole new generation of snobs to look down their noses at us common folk – soda snobs. “PepsiCo today [June 4] confirmed that it will soon launch a new line of craft sodas called ‘Stubborn Soda,’ that will be sold at fountains at select foodservice accounts,” Advertising Age reported. This isn’t Pepsi’s first venture into the new and pretentious craft soda category. Late last year, the soda maker launched Caleb’s Kola, followed by Mountain Dew Dewshine this March. Even though “there is no consensus, at least yet, as to exactly what ‘craft’ means in the [soda] world,” wrote Beverage Digest, sweetening with sugar and packaging in glass bottles “seem to be common.” Judging from the descriptive language, the formulation and the packaging, though, “common” is the last thing Pepsi wants its craft sodas to be.
Caleb’s Kola, for example, is made from cane sugar (diet sodas being so frightfully bourgeois, don’t you know), African kola nuts, spices, and a soupçon of citrus. Dewshine, a portmanteau name combining parts of Mountain Dew and moonshine, both names for dirt-poor, hillbilly liquor, is positioned as a definitely high-hat “whisky mix” that tastes like 7Up. Unlike plebeian sodas, it’s clear rather than colored, contains a mere 42 grams of sugar per 12 ounces – a whole four grams less than in more commonplace brands – eschews orange juice as an ingredient, and comes in clear 12-ounce glass bottles or a “limited edition” of 25-ounce jugs.
For more discerning tastes than the rabble’s, Stubborn Soda’s flavors will include black cherry with tarragon, lemon berry acai, agave vanilla cream, and orange hibiscus. It will be sweetened with not just ordinary table sugar, but “fair trade certified cane sugar,” according to PepsiCo. And because glass bottles, or even limited edition imitation hillbilly moonshine jugs are oh, so declassé, Stubborn will be available only from custom-designed fountain machines that feature a “tap-like pouring ritual.” Pepsi didn’t say whether this ritual would be marred by pouring their precious liquid from the machines into proletarian paper cups or whether more befitting vessels, such as long-stemmed crystal goblets, would be available. “[W]e’re continuing to explore the craft space with Stubborn Soda and its unique, contemporary flavor profiles,” a Pepsico spokeswoman explained. “Introducing it on fountain with an engaging piece of innovative equipment offers consumers a new take on the traditional soft-drink experience while also creating value for customers.”
In doing so, however, Pepsi may be following a flawed marketing model – at the very least, one that’s flawed for big brands. It’s true that craft beverages have been very successful in the beer industry; in 2013, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights figures, all craft beers combined outsold Budweiser by 100,000 barrels. But that was a very large bunch of very small brewers. In its love/hate relationship with craft beers, Budweiser has swung between trying to imitate them to denouncing “their pumpkin peach ale” as being brewed for dissecting rather than drinking; running commercials purporting to show that Brooklyn hipsters couldn’t tell the difference between craft beers and Bud; and showing off its factory and ingredients. But all of Budweiser’s efforts to fight craft beers and join them have failed to break a 32-year-long streak of shrinking sales.
So mass-producing craft-like sodas, giving them exotic-sounding ingredients and names that don’t sound like national brands, and creating “tap-like pouring rituals” may not be enough to fool soda snobs into drinking, much less dissecting, Pepsi products. Just as it didn’t fool beer snobs into drinking Budweiser.