Over the Edge: Pepsi sinks mid-calorie cola

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PepsiCo gave its "mid-calorie" cola Pepsi Edge the ax.

Rival Coca-Cola Co. said it will stick with its mid-calorie concept, C2, though it too has suffered industry criticism that consumers can't differentiate the brands from diet soft drinks.

"Edge, like rival C2, is a classic case of falling into the mushy-middle trap," marketing guru Al Ries said. "Cola drinkers who want taste will continue to drink regular cola. Cola drinkers who want low calories will continue to drink diet colas. Where's the market for Pepsi Edge or C2?"

PepsiCo now admits there wasn't a clear market.

"Consumers are more interested in zero-calorie diet colas, so we're going to focus on Diet Pepsi and Pepsi One," said a spokesman, confirming a report in Beverage Digest that the product will be discontinued by year-end. "People give us credit for trying new things, and we'll certainly continue to innovate. If we've learned anything, it's that consumers are more interested in zero-calorie diet colas than mid-calorie diet colas."

Pepsi introduced its drink a year ago on the notion that 60% of consumers were "dual users" who switch between full-calorie and diet colas to help control their calorie intake but don't like the taste of diet drinks. Earlier this year, Pepsi relaunched its Pepsi One brand with Splenda and new packaging, a move some viewed as the final blow for Pepsi Edge. Flagship Pepsi agency Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, handles Edge.

"It's been dead for a while," said an executive close to Pepsi, noting the products are all but gone from shelves. Coke sold only 25 million cases of its mid-calorie cola in the U.S. in 2004, well below other introductions, according to Beverage Digest. Yet it was nearly three times the 8.6 million cases of Pepsi Edge sold in the same period.

STANDING FIRM

Defying naysayers, Coca-Cola has been stalwart in its support for the product despite negative buzz and its own parade of diet line extensions including Diet Coke Sweetened With Splenda and Coke Zero. The Atlanta-based beverage marketer recently rolled out C2 in 2-liter bottles and 12-packs, and is said to be working on a branding initiative to target younger consumers.

Whether Coke can sustain interest for C2, handled by WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, amid the buzz building for the highly anticipated Coke Zero launch will be an interesting case study. "Everybody chill" is the theme for Zero's launch June 20, with a campaign from MDC Partners' Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami and AKQA, New York.

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