Flavors favored

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Flavored soft drinks are riding high, taking with them specialty brands such as Stewart's, Hansen's and regional favorites that are shunning advertising, ignoring the slowing economy, and not fixating on the primary soft-drink target: teens.

Just this spring, Cadbury Schweppes' Snapple Beverage Group launched three local flavors to supplement its already nine-strong Stewart's line: strawberries `n cream in South, West and central parts of the country, as well as birch beer and black cherry Wishniak for the East Coast. Black cherry has done so well it is going national.

Stewart's fountain-style sodas tallied $8.5 million in sales for the 52 weeks ending July 15, 2001-a 22% jump, according to Information Resources Inc. Competitor Hansen Natural Corp., which markets Hansen's Natural beverages, recorded $8.7 million in sales-an 11% boost, according to IRI. Last month, the company said it would launch a line of premium sodas in 1-liter glass bottles this year.

"They're not trying to be Coke or Pepsi, and that does have a marketing element to it," said John Rodwan, editorial director of Beverage Marketing Corp. The specialty-soda category last year accounted for just under $300 million, an infinitesimal sum compared with the $43.7 billion soft-drink category, according to Beverage Marketing. By 2005, the consultancy predicts specialty sodas will be $345 million dollars and the industry $48.7 billion.

Not bad considering the products are mostly impulse purchases-and average $1.09 for a 12-ounce bottle rather than a fountain tankard at convenience stores.

"This is a treat," said Bruce Bollinger, VP-marketing for Stewart's. "People see it, and it brings them back to the classics they grew up with, and they love them."

The brands don't appear to need advertising. Stewart's, for example, opts for public relations and word of mouth. Its meager marketing is low tech: price promotions and displays. Even its Web site (www.drinkstewarts.com) lacks the pizzazz of competitors that are trying to lure young consumers.

Flavors have been a driver among carbonated soft drinks. For the first four months of this year, orange-flavored drinks were up 17%, grape up 10%, lemon-lime up 8%, and citrus 6%, vs. just 4% growth for the category, according to Beverage Digest.

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