PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Bottling, and even RC Cola International spend the equivalent of the GDP of a medium-sized country convincing you to buy their sweetened, fizzy drinks. Pepsi’s investment in Mountain Dew, which they first purchased from a pair of regional bottlers and drink-makers in 1964, has been nothing short of exorbitant. They’ve spent billions to position the caffeine-laden, citrusy drink as the “extreme” soft drink, and they’ve done it well. Mountain Dew’s partnerships with video games, alternative sports, fast food outlets, and other PepsiCo products, have led to its accounting for 80% of the citrus-flavored soft drink sales in the United States.
Its competitors have all but disappeared in the face of this media assault. Our old friends of the ‘80s and ‘90s – Mello Yello and Vault – don’t show up in your average bodega or convenience store. But go to your local Sam’s Club, Albertson’s, Safeway, or IGA, and you might find a host of new competitors sharing shelf space with the world’s favorite citrus drink: private label brands.
Referred to dismissively as “off-brands” or “generic drinks,” or more forgivingly, “store brands,” these carbonated drinks take the form of facsimiles of major brands and “archetypes” of soft drinks. For example, Albertson’s A+ Cola imitates Coke’s red packaging and cursive lettering, while its proximity to the major brands’ flavor is debated. Taste becomes less of an issue for many families, however, when the store-brand version of the soda costs 20-30% less than the national brand. Grocers are able to keep their store brand prices at or below the price of the national brands’ as they don’t need the same levels of marketing, advertising, or packaging design as the big boys. Even at their cheaper prices, the store brands make their stores a 35% return, as compared to a 24% return on the national brands.
But what’s a store brand drink-maker to do when the brand most people associate with a flavor is trademarked?
That’s where the fun comes in!
Clockwise: Mountain Frost from Aldi, Mountain Maze from Albertson’s, Mountain Lightning from Sam’s Choice, Mountain Yeller from Piggly Wiggly
If I were Mountain Dew, I’d be a sugary soda. But I’d also be pretty angry that all of these private labels of my flavor were riding my coattails. It’s a good thing I’m not a can of soda, I suppose.