While attention is focused on the reinvigorated cola wars, the next big battle is being waged on a normally more genteel front: tea.
First-half figures from Beverage Digest show a photo-finish race between Lipton and upstart Arizona for leadership in the $5.3 billion ready-to-drink iced-tea category, a too-close-for-comfort situation that 's spurring a big push by Lipton in the coming months. The slim share gap between the rivals is all the more remarkable given that Arizona is an independent company and has advanced without the help of measured media.
Arizona, known for its oversized 99¢ cans, has found success with an aggressive pricing strategy and bold flavors. Meanwhile Lipton, which includes Lipton Brisk, Lipton Iced Tea and Lipton Pure Leaf, has been deliberately remaking its trademark one line at a time -- and as a result Brisk sales are growing at a double-digit pace even as other parts of its portfolio drag.
According to take-home volume data from Beverage Digest, Arizona now has a 39% share of the category, while Lipton has a 34.8% share. Year-to-date sales of Arizona brands are $595 million, compared to $559 million for Lipton brands, according to SymphonyIRI Group. But there are caveats. The volume shift can, in part, be attributed to a change in how Arizona's Arnold Palmer brand is classified -- the lemonade and tea blend moved from the juice category to the tea category -- while SymphonyIRI data excludes Walmart, club stores and food-service accounts. A Lipton spokeswoman said that , based on internal reporting, the brand feels it is on par with Arizona.
Even so, it wants the bigger share of the market, by all industry measures, and soon. There are plans for ramped up marketing across the portfolio, including a "significant" first-quarter investment behind Lipton Brisk, an updated, expanded campaign for Lipton Iced Tea's Natural line, and a relaunch of its premium Pure Leaf brand. The Pepsi Lipton Tea Partnership, a joint venture between PepsiCo and Unilever, spent $18.4 million on measured media last year and $13 million in the first half of 2011, according to Kantar.
"Our vision is to lead this category. We have plans in place to make sure we regain the leadership position in volume and, most importantly, drive growth," said Mary Barnard, VP-general manager of the Pepsi Lipton Tea Partnership.
Brisk, which had a Super Bowl spot this year, is set for another big splash at the beginning of 2012, though execs hedged on whether a commercial in the Big Game was on the agenda. The brand is also introducing "Brisk Bodega," a pop-up bodega experience cum gallery. San Francisco-based Mekanism handles creative for Brisk.
"We hadn't done anything with Brisk in several years. ... We got caught up in looking at other parts of the portfolio," said Marisol Tamaro, senior director-marketing of the Pepsi Lipton Tea Partnership. "[The Super Bowl] signaled to our bottling system, consumers and retailers that Brisk was back in a major way. ... We'll continue to invest behind the brand and advertise to build it with this millennial and Hispanic audience."
Ms. Tamaro said Lipton Iced Tea's Natural line, introduced earlier this year, will also receive increased investment behind its existing "You Are What You Tea" campaign, created by DDB. The introduction of the line led to a 31% swing in volume for Lipton Iced Tea's single-serve business, execs said, though the grocery channel remains challenging with private label encroaching.
Pure Leaf is slated for a relaunch in 2012, which will include new packaging and messaging meant to convey its premium positioning. Anomaly recently came onboard to handle creative.
Arizona, for its part, plans to combat Lipton with new partnerships and event sponsorships. The brand has shied away from measured media in the past and will continue to, said Jackie Harrigan, communications director. Arizona recently sponsored Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York and Miami Swim Week, both deals that Ms. Harrigan said were meant to align the brand with fashion labels and cultivate new consumers.
"I'm floored and flabbergasted by where this brand is , in the face of other companies, much bigger dogs, with bigger marketing strategies and more marketing dollars," Ms. Harrigan said. "[Our success] is a direct reflection of consumers' wants and needs. "