As consumers grow sweeter on sugar-free and aspartame-free sodas, one upstart is trying to build a big head start on beverage behemoths Coca-Cola KO 0.38% and PepsiCo PEP 0.17% in the growing market for naturally sweetened soft drinks.
Zevia, based in Culver City, Calif., produces the only zero or low-calorie carbonated soft drink with rising U.S. sales among the top 20 brands. Its secret? It uses stevia, a leaf, to sweeten its soft drinks naturally at a time when leading diet soda brands such as Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi are getting slammed by a backlash against the use of artificial sweeteners.
In the first half of 2014, U.S. sales of diet carbonated soft drinks fell 7.5%, according to Beverage Digest. In contrast, according to SPINS/IR data, Zevia saw sales rise 67% in the three months ending on May 18 compared to the previous year, despite being more expensive than leading diet soda brands.
Zevia, which offers 15 soft drinks, including cola, root beer, and ginger ale, had sales of about $90 million in the last 12 months, making it a tiny player compared to Pepsi, Coke, and Dr Pepper Snapple DPS -0.60% . But that performance has underscored how slowly the industry’s giants have been to adapt to changing tastes.
零卡旗下有可乐、根汁汽水、姜汁汽水等15种不同口味的软饮，去年一年的销量高达9,000万美元，虽然与百事、可口可乐、Dr Pepper Snapple等巨擘相比还有很大差距，但零卡在饮料界已经算得上小有名气了。
“As big and as powerful as the big beverage companies are, a lot of the innovation has been by the smaller companies,” Beverage Digest editor and publisher John Sicher told Fortune.
The industry’s giants are taking notice, developing their own similar, though not directly competing, products.
Coke is introducing Coca-Cola Life, a mid-calorie cola sweetened with a blend of stevia leaf extract and sugar, in the United States in September, according to a Beverage Digest report. Meanwhile, PepsiCo is reformulating Sierra Mist with stevia this fall, lowering the sugar content by 20%. And Dr Pepper Snapple is currently testing three naturally sweetened versions of Dr Pepper, 7up, and Canada Dry, with stevia and sugar, in three markets. Food companies are also getting in on the action: this week General Mills GIS 0.54% said it would reformulate its Yoplait yogurt with stevia.
据《饮料文摘》报道，可口可乐公司九月份在美国推出了“Coca-Cola Life”系列。这是一种“中卡路里”可乐，混合了甜叶菊叶子提取物和糖。同时，百事公司秋季时节更新了Sierra Mist青檬系列的配方，添加了甜叶菊，减少了20%的含糖量。而且，Dr Pepper Snapple眼下正在三大市场中试验营销Dr Pepper、七喜和Canada Dry三种混合了甜叶菊和糖的纯天然甜味饮料。食品公司也紧赶潮流：本周，通用磨坊（General Mills）宣布升级优诺酸奶（Yoplait yogurt）的配方，往原配方中添加了甜叶菊。说句公道话，大型公司之所以犹豫不决，主要是因为担心影响旗下其它热销的减肥饮料，或者害怕顾客形成对新型饮料的偏好。
To be fair, much of the big companies’ hesitation comes from the risk of hurting their still high volume diet brands, or fear of customers by reformulating a favorite drink.
But that hesitation has given Zevia, which was founded in 2007 and is held by Long Island-based private equity firm Northwood Ventures, time to build an edge.
The brand, which got a big break when Whole Foods WFM -0.54% started selling it a few years ago, is among the five best- selling soft drink brands on Amazon.com AMZN -0.34% and is available in about half of all U.S. supermarkets, according to Zevia CEO Paddy Spence. It is also a draw among more affluent consumers; the average household income of a Zevia drinker is $60,000, compared to a U.S. average of about $52,000, Spence said.
据零卡CEO派迪o斯彭思说，几年前零卡在全食有机食品超市（Whole Foods ）上架后销量激增，现在已经是亚马逊网上销量前五的软饮品牌，进驻了全美一半以上的超市。而且饮用零卡的消费者属于较富裕阶层，家庭平均收入在六万美元左右，而全美国的家庭平均收入水平则为5.2万美元。
Despite that success, there is still a lot of work to do before Zevia can really say it has cornered the market. For one thing, it doesn’t sell its products at major retailers like Wal-Mart Stores WMT 0.57% or restaurant chains like McDonald’s MCD -0.05% , and it has minimal presence in chains like Target TGT 0.43% .
Zevia has begun selling its beverage outside of grocery stores. Its products are sold in the cafeterias of a few Silicon Valley companies and Zevia is a sponsor of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics. But consumers buy 8 to 10 cans of Zevia soda at a time in a supermarket, so retail is its main focus for now, rather than the so-called “single-serve” market at places like movie theaters and sports venues.
“We built the business at the grocery shelf because, frankly, that’s where a lot of the volume purchasing happens,” Spence said. “You have to earn your shelf space and retailers are not willing to take risks—they’re not going to put a product on the shelf unless it has proven demand.”
Zevia’s strong position in the zero-calorie soda area could eventually make the company an acquisition target by one of the big guys, Beverage Digest’s Sicher said. He pointed to how PepsiCo bought SoBe in 2000 and Coke bought Vitaminwater maker Glaceau in 2007 to gain a foothold in beverage growth areas.
Spence declined to say whether Zevia is up for sale but did say he fields inquiries regularly. He also hinted that it would be too soon, anyway.
“We’ve had a phenomenal run so far, but I feel like I am only part way up the mountain,” Spence said, noting that being independent gives Zevia more room to innovate.