CPG brands and supermarket retailers understand there's nothing that gets consumer trial and acceptance of new products like good, old-fashioned sampling. So as Pepsi is attempting once again to grow the U.S. market for mid-calorie sodas with a new sub-brand, Pepsi Next, it's time to put the reliable sampling technique to massive use.
In fact, sampling will be a centerpiece of the campaign, "Drink it to believe it," that Pepsi has launched behind Next, the product it tested last year and will begin rolling out nationally to retailers on March 26. Walmart stores will be a key partner for the launch as Pepsi samples Next at 800 Walmart Supercenters across the country. Pepsi also plans to continue a national sampling program for Next in more than 40 cities nationwide through August.
There's a big reason Pepsi wants to get Next (not to be confused with Pepsi Nex in Asia) in the actual hands, and gullets, of Americans. Brand executives believe that Next can be a gamechanger in the long-struggling category of mid-calorie sodas. It offers 60 calories with 60 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi.
"What first gave me confidence was the blind taste-test with our bottlers," Angelique Krembs, VP of marketing for Pepsi, told Ad Age. "Wehn they realized one of the products was Pepsi Next, they were blown away. That was the start of the journey. We started replicating variations of the blind taste-test with retailers and consumers in test markets. When people try the product, they're just really impressed."
Such reactions are obviously what PepsiCo is hoping for from all the sampling of Next. The challenge is that consumers won't be blind, or without memory, when they sample next. The soft-drink industry's history with mid-calorie products has been abysmal, including Pepsi XL in the mid-Nineties and Pepsi Edge mid-last decade as well as Coca-Cola's ill-fated C2 just a year later.
Sweetener ingredients and technology have continued to advance, to the point now where Pepsi believes its combination of sucralose, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners will provide just the right taste notes in Next; interestingly, the product doesn't include stevia, the all-natural sweetener that Pepsi has been working into more beverages.
"If we can capture even a portion of those people looking to reduce sugar," Krembs said, "we will have a viable business on our hands."