Saturday, January 26, 2008

Functional Beveraging?

In case you’ve been MIA the last few years, functional beverages (often called “neutraceuticals”) are drinks fortified with dietary supplements and herbal medicines. I last wrote about the category in “Tunguska Blast,” a September post.

This multi-billion dollar industry isn’t slowing down. As a branded category, it generates an immense amount of brand work and a lot of attention.

The category as a whole is “swarming with hype.” So I picked one at random, Celsius. An ad for the product appears above.

According to its write-up on Red, this drink: is widely credited by experts and the media with having created a completely new category of functional foods that burn calories without sacrificing taste. Celsius is designed to be a great replacement beverage for people who want to enjoy the taste of a soda and crave the energy of an energy drink or coffee but, don’t want the calories and chemicals that are found in many of these beverages.

Though the company continues to announce distribution agreements, its current stock price is about 11¢, down from a 52-week high of $3.67 – so perhaps Celsius is not performing at its peak.

Functional beverages existed when I was growing up. My first one was Milk, Homogenized, Mark 1. The implied brand promise was, “Grow up tall.” I suppose it worked because I’m six-and-a-half feet tall still. I then migrated quickly to coffee (heavily laced with the aforementioned milk), thereby gaining early experience with caffeine. My daddy tried to introduce me to beer – a functional beverage with centuries of performance data behind it – but it took a long time for me to get with that program.

I also cheerfully confess to being a long-time fan of Gatorade® sports drink – hundreds of miles of cycling proved its value to me.

So I don’t intend to pick on Celsius particularly. It’s one example of the creative branding that’s going on in this category. But nothing drives a brand out of business faster than empty promises. Drinks that offer higher forms of enlightenment or better bedroom performance should be taken with a grain of salt. Admire the brand story and the packaging all you like. Then check out the claims for yourself.

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