In Italian and Spanish, Mio means "mine." For Kraft Foods Group, it has translated into moolah.
The beverage brand -- launched last year as the first nationally marketed "liquid water enhancer" -- has rocketed out of the gate. Sales are on pace to at least double this year to more than $200 million. And now it's spawning imitations from heavyweights such as Coca-Cola.
"We invented this category and you doubted it, and in only its second year Mio continues to surge," Kraft CEO Tony Vernon recently boasted to analysts, calling it "one of our most successful new products ever."
Mio has already reached 12.28% share in the fruit-drink mix category, with sales of $141.4 million in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 7, trailing only private label and Kool-Aid (also a Kraft brand), according to SymphonyIRI.
The liquid is basically Tang for a new age. Mio comes in a squeezable container that is small enough to fit into a purse or pocket. Kraft markets the brand to millennials, whom the company says crave the type of customization that Mio affords. Users either squeeze a bunch or a little into a glass of water. Some consumers have even started squeezing it onto foods, such as yogurt, said Becky McAninch, Mio's marketing director.
Millennials "really personalize every part of their life," she said, from Facebook pages to music playlists. With Mio, "you can make it any way you like," she added. "It embraces that individuality, that customization ... that no other beverage in the market could."
But Kraft won't have the market cornered much longer. Coca-Cola is launching a similar product this fall, Dasani Drops, billed as a "zero-calorie liquid beverage enhancer" that the company says "offers a new twist on the water-drinking routine."
"Dasani Drops is the perfect solution for those who want to mix things up with a refreshing splash of flavor in their day," said John Roddey, VP-water, tea and coffee for Coca-Cola North America.
Like Mio, Dasani Drops come in a small, squeezable bottle and are meant to be an on-the-go option. The launch is being supported by an integrated marketing campaign and sampling efforts. Even with the new entrants, the category will only contribute "a very small addition to the overall beverage business in the U.S.," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. That's because "most people like the convenience of ready-to-drink products," he said, while the enhancers will serve a niche of people "who like customizing their beverages," he said.
Kraft is planning to extend the squeezable-liquid platform to its Crystal Light brand in a move to target calorie-conscious women. At the same time, Kraft is putting more muscle behind Mio. It now comes in 11 flavors, including two "energy" varieties: green thunder and black cherry, which are caffeinated. Coca-Cola is planning four Dasani Drops flavors.
Kraft spent $27.4 million in measured media on Mio in 2011, according to Kantar Media.
Kraft last year shifted Mio creative duties to WPP's Taxi from Dentsu's McGarryBowen. Taxi's ads have featured a Mio "watering hole" in which animated animals -- which Kraft calls "Millen-imals" -- sip and shoot Mio at a bar-like setting. A newer ad shows two men squirting berry pomegranate Mio at the office.
Other executions have included what Ms. McAninch described as the first "submersible print ad." Appearing in Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, the ad was designed to be dipped in water, at which point it changes color from bland white to black, while words appear claiming that Mio can make water more exciting.