When Mtn Dew put out a hard seltzer version of the teenager-friendly soda early last year, it signaled that big beverage companies were ready to test the boundaries that for decades had kept brands from venturing into the potentially risky territory of so-called crossover drinks.
While the backlash has been somewhat muted for that drink and similar collaborations —such as Simply Spiked Lemonade from Coca-Cola and Molson Coors—a new product has the potential to put the industry in the crosshairs of regulators: SunnyD Vodka Seltzer.
The drink, which will hit select Walmart stores beginning this weekend, is an alcoholic version of the 60-year-old orange drink brand long associated with kids. The vodka seltzer, officially announced this week, comes in a 4-pack of 12-ounce slim cans and contains 4.5% alcohol by volume, which is slightly above the ABV of the average light beer.
Ilene Bergenfeld, chief marketing officer of SunnyD owner Harvest Hill Beverage Company, described the rationale in a press release: “Consumers are passionate about this iconic brand, rooted in nostalgia but with a taste that resonates today. Many have told us that they enjoy SunnyD as a mixer and asked for this product. So, we looked at the hard seltzer category, and thought, good, but we can do better. And SunnyD Vodka Seltzer was born."
But Trevor Stirling, a financial analyst covering the alcohol industry for Sanford C. Bernstein, immediately pounced on it as an “egregious example” of “irresponsible marketing of U.S. beer and near beer.”
Stirling made the comment in a note sent to investors today in which he re-shared a lengthy Bernstein report issued late last year that cited several new alcohol-juice-soda brand crossover products while warning that the drinks industry risked “a public furor over irresponsible marketing glorifying alcohol brands amongst the underaged.” The report referred to the trend as a possible “Joe Camel blow-up,” citing cigarette branding from years ago that was accused of appealing to children.
A SunnyD representative did not provide a comment when asked about the criticism.