It appears craft beer is currently king of the beer category. According to the Brewers Association, there are 2,051 American breweries in planning, with 1.7 opening a day. But what else is on its way to the throne, perhaps rather quietly, is craft … soda. Soda? That’s correct. Since beer is exclusive to the 21+ crowd and tailors to the actual beer fan and connoisseur-type, it leaves an entire population for consideration: the soda drinker.
Craft Soda by Definition
Craft soda is largely defined as being manufactured in smaller batches with more natural ingredients. Mountain Dew’s Dewshine line of craft soda includes cane sugar on its ingredient list vs. high fructose corn syrup, as consumers continue to favor clean, natural ingredients. Mountain Dew’s innovation and response to consumer trends and demands is reflected in Dewshine, which has a unique creation story.
Craft by definition means an activity involving skill in making things by hand. Over the summer Pepsi announced its Caleb's Kola craft soda, which pays homage to Pepsi founder Caleb Bradham. Caleb’s Kola combines sparkling water, cane sugar, and extract from the kola nut. The kola nut is extracted from evergreen trees in Africa, and the cane sugar is fair trade. This description is Caleb Kola’s website, “When poured, you’ll notice Caleb’s Kola has just the right amount of carbonation resulting in a distinct foamy head.”
Wonder where they draw inspiration from … craft beer, perhaps? Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Why the Popularity
If craft soda is trending, it’s because there is popularity and demand. Just as breweries pouring craft beer figured out, there has to be something to offer the non-drinking sector. Appealing to everyone is a surefire way to increase brand awareness and consumer engagement. Breweries began offering root beer, ginger ale, and craft sodas as an option to satisfy everyone, including Milwaukee-based brwery Sprecher. They carry nine different craft soda flavors including Cherry Cola, Grape, Cherry-Cran, and Orange Dream. Soda makers took note of the breweries’ alternative to craft beer, and set out to find their own successes within the market.
Craft soda is also marketed in ways it can be interpreted as an indulgence. You can buy soda in cases and 12-packs; craft soda is packaged in four or six-packs and both products have similar price tags for the differing quantity. Its perceived value is then implied and gives craft soda a unique appeal. It’s not for every day. It’s not for everyone. But it is special. It is unique. And it is a trend.
Craft Soda as Craft Beer
If it’s true that craft soda drew its inspiration from craft beer, is it possible that craft beer can draw new inspiration from craft soda? It appears so. MillerCoors just launched two hard soda flavors. Henry's Hard Ginger Ale, and Henry's Hard Orange. Their intent aligns with craft soda makers: something new for the same consumers who are looking for new products, new trends, and new favorites. MillerCoors hopes to appeal to Gen Xers who favored soda while growing up.
“This is a true white-space opportunity in the marketplace,” said Bryan Ferschinger, Director of Innovation for MillerCoors. “We’re seeing very strong trends in craft sodas,” he continued.
Also worth mentioning is hard root beer, as its popularity skyrocketed this summer. Sprecher Brewing Company out of Milwaukee produces its adult version of their popular craft soda, Fire Brewed Hard Root Beer. Their recipe, which they began crafting in 2013, is inspired by the original fermented mixture of roots and herbs, and aged in oak bourbon barrels for a unique taste.
At the end of the day, it’s the customer-is-always-right mentality, and customers want options. They want innovation when it comes to the already proven rituals and loyalty they have. Craft soda is a direct response to that and is on an upward trajectory in the marketplace.