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04/22/2022

The Unlimited Appeal of Limited-Edition Beverages

Incorporating a limited-edition strategy plays a key role in generating excitement and sales in beverage category
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Goldschmidt profile picture
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Coca-Cola Starlight Main Image
Coca-Cola Starlight “combines great Coca-Cola taste with a dash of the unexpected, including a reddish hue.”

In February of this year, Coca-Cola took off into the stratosphere. As the first product of its newly launched global innovation platform, Coca-Cola Creations, the venerable soft-drink company introduced limited-edition Coca-Cola Starlight. Harking back to its 35-year history with NASA, when Coke became one of the first soft drinks to travel to space, the new drink “combines great Coca-Cola taste with a dash of the unexpected, including a reddish hue,” according to the Atlanta-based company. “Its taste includes additional notes reminiscent of stargazing around a campfire, as well as a cooling sensation that evokes the feeling of a cold journey to space.”

Available in North America and rolling out to select countries, Coca-Cola Starlight boasts a unique packaging design, featuring a multi-dimensional, light-filled star field, and is backed by a digital-first marketing campaign, including social filters across Instagram, and partnerships with streetwear brand Staple and pop star Ava Max, who performed in an augmented-reality “Concert on a Coca-Cola” experience that could be accessed via www.cocacola.com/creations  or by scanning a Coca-Cola Starlight can or bottle.

Through limited-edition sequential releases like Coca-Cola Starlight, Coca-Cola Creations aims to launch new products and experiences across the physical and digital worlds. Coca-Cola Creations was developed under the Real Magic brand platform, which was unveiled late last year. Later in 2022, Coca-Cola plans to introduce additional limited-edition Coca-Cola Creations “featuring unique innovations and unexpected collaborations.”

Cultural Connection

Coke’s big move into unique limited-edition beverages reaffirms the idea that such items can play a key role in generating excitement and sales in the category. Fellow soft-drink giant PepsiCo shares a similar point of view.

“At Pepsi, we’re constantly looking for new ways to evolve our product portfolio based on consumers’ evolving taste and beverage preferences,” notes Todd Kaplan, chief marketing officer at the Purchase, N.Y.-based company. “We think it’s important to ensure that what we’re investing in and rolling out across retailers speaks to our core consumers and piques the interest of potential new Pepsi customers. Some of our most successful limited-time offerings at retail include Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop in Cream Soda and Black Cherry, Pepsi Lime, Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi Blue, and many more. We know our retail partners value our exciting new offerings as they continue to intrigue and interest shoppers.” He adds that Pepsi will roll out additional limited-edition beverages in the coming months. 

According to Kaplan, the kind of beverages that work best in this space are “[l]imited-edition flavors that are concepted by focusing on cultural truths. You can have the best-tasting flavor innovation on the market, but if it is not relevant to your target consumers, it won’t matter. That’s why at Pepsi, we approach limited-edition beverages with a smart, nimble, culture-forward attitude that we’ve seen success with time after time.”

In terms of marketing and merchandising limited-edition beverages at retail, he stresses that it’s important “to have clear consumer-facing messages that are rooted in culturally relevant moments or trends. Creating a campaign that is inclusive of all digital and physical marketing assets helps to provide a clear story and build consumer excitement.”

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The Unlimited Appeal of Limited-Edition Beverages
Launched in September 2021, Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop came in Cream Soda and Black Cherry flavors.

Shaking Things Up

Beyond the two biggest soft-drink brands, other beverage manufacturers have eagerly embraced the limited-edition strategy, including Los Angeles-based Koia, which offers creamy plant-based functional protein shakes

“Limited-time product releases continue to keep their consumers engaged and enticed by the discovery of new brand partnerships and exciting seasonal offerings,” says Chris Pruneda, Koia’s chief marketing officer. “Consumers make most of their purchase decisions at the point of purchase and have a level of expectation that new and interesting innovation will be a part of their shopping journey. By enticing consumers with limited-edition products, both the retailers and manufacturers can drive incremental sales while also adding value to consumers’ shopping experience.”

Pruneda goes on to note that “[t]he most effective limited-edition beverages are either seasonally relevant or come with an added brand enhancement. Koia Protein Pumpkin Spice was an excellent opportunity to appeal to consumers’ fall craving while providing an indulgent twist on our healthy plant-based protein beverage. Another approach that provides fantastic marketing impact is through promotional partnerships. Koia recently partnered with Thomas DeLauer, a ketogenic health coach with 3 million YouTube followers, [on] a special formula: Koia Keto Raspberry Lava Cake. Koia and DeLauer formulated a new keto formula with a macadamia nut base and pumpkin seed protein to deliver a twist on our current Koia Keto offerings. The flavor was also inspired by DeLauer’s favorite keto-friendly dessert (that his wife created), Raspberry Lava Cake. Koia was able to launch this LTO [limited-time offer] online and share it with DeLauer’s massive following, bringing many of DeLauer’s faithful followers into the Koia brand.”  

In both cases described above, as Pruneda observes, “one big advantage of these LTOs is that they become a low-risk process for testing new products to carry at retail on a permanent basis.” He further points out that “these offerings have the potential to attract new customers and bring existing customers back more often, driving up sales in the long term.”

Regarding future rollouts, Pruneda asserts: “As long as it is delicious, plant-based, low sugar and convenient for the consumer, sky’s the limit from an innovation standpoint. We plan to launch a lot of LTO products as part of our innovation process.”

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The Unlimited Appeal of Limited-Edition Beverages
Labatt focuses on specific consumer needs to create its seasonal variety packs.

Tailored Experience

Of course, it’s not just nonalcoholic beverage manufacturers that make extensive use of limited-edition products.

“From our standpoint, limited-edition releases allow the manufacturer to bring innovation to the category with unique packaging, styles and flavor profiles,” says Jason Folaron, brand manager at famed beer brand Labatt, whose U.S. headquarters is in Buffalo, N.Y. “This is not only beneficial for the manufacturer, but the retailer as well. It gives the retailer a new and exciting product that can break frame during key periods of the year. It creates excitement and demand for the consumer, benefiting the manufacturer, retailer and, most importantly, the consumer all at once.”

Adds Folaron: “The limited-edition beverages that work best in the market seem to be beverages that focus on a specific time period, such as the summer and holidays, or specific occasions such as sports. Focusing on the specific consumer allows us to tailor the package, style and flavor profile that is most appealing to them.” The brand’s seasonal products include the Labatt Blue Light Flavors Summer Variety Pack, available for the entirety of the season.

“At retail, limited-edition or any kind of new product launch focuses on engaging the shopper and bringing awareness to the brand and product,” he notes. “Some ways to do this are to activate unique display opportunities, consumer experientials and economic incentives.”

Riding the Wave

Retailers can leverage the buzz created by limited-edition beverages. According to Rachel Shemirani, SVP of Poway, Calif.-based Barons Market, which operates nine stores in the San Diego area, “Offering limited-edition beverages creates excitement, especially for longtime customers that love that particular brand. Customers will often come in specifically for that new limited-edition drink after seeing it on social media.”

Noting the demand for seasonal limited-edition flavors around the fall and winter holidays and summer, Shemirani points out big sales at Barons Market of limited-edition beverages “among our kombucha or cold-brew brands such as Healthade, Brew Dr., La Colombe and Modern Times. Of course, beer and seltzers are constantly doing limited-edition beverages, which are quite popular.”

The reason that these beverages do so well is “because it’s something new, exciting and sought-after,” she explains. “Limited-edition products create a sense of urgency for the customer. They’ll often post the product on their own Instagram pages, saying something like ‘Look what I found!’ and tagging us as the retailer.”

For its part, Barons Market will “often post the limited-edition flavors on our Instagram page,” notes Shemirani. “In-store, we’ll display them in barrels of ice near the register.”

More to Come

Whatever comes next in limited-edition beverages, Shemirani is certain that there will be a greater number of them.

“More and more brands are offering limited edition flavors, and those brands who do offer them are doing it more often,” she observes. “We’re seeing that these brands are also doing more innovative flavors instead of bringing in the same limited-edition flavor year after year. Most brands start out by doing a limited-edition beverage for the holidays and then expand to other times of the year.”

PepsiCo’s Kaplan agrees with the idea of novel flavor offerings. “We can expect to see innovations that test the limits of what consumers are used to, particularly in the way these flavors are formulated,” he predicts.

Lebatt’s Folaron believes that’s just the tip of the innovation iceberg, however. “I think you will continue to see manufacturers push the envelope on limited-edition beverages when it comes to exciting new flavors, formulations and styles; unique packaging, whether it be the actual structure of the can, bottle or secondary packaging, or unique graphics that break frame; or innovating with new beverages,” he says. 

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limited beverages
    Drop it Like It’s Hot

    Some of PepsiCo’s hottest limited-edition products aren’t found in stores.

    Todd Kaplan, chief marketing officer at the Purchase, N.Y.-based company, notes that it’s “always looking for new ways to tap into pop culture through the development of exclusive product drops and innovations. These products are typically available through a social drop only — not at retail — as they are limited in quantities. We’ve launched a number of drops over the last few years tied to a specific moment in time or culture, including Pepsi x Cracker Jack, in celebration of October baseball; PEPSI x PEEPS, launched at the beginning of spring; Pepsi “Hot Chocolate” Cola, rolled out on National Hot Chocolate Day; Pepsi Apple Pie, inspired by DIY Thanksgiving desserts; and many more that consistently drive high consumer engagement and excitement.”

    It’s safe to say that consumers can expect more of these exclusive beverages. The latest was Pepsi Maple Syrup Cola, a partnership with IHOP that combined the indulgent flavor profile of maple syrup with the crisp, refreshing caramel notes of a Pepsi. From March 24 through March 29,  uniquely designed 12-ounce cans of the beverage were available only through the #ShowUsYourStack program on Instagram and Twitter. Those eager for a taste of the limited-edition offering could post a photo or video of their stack(s) of pancakes on Instagram or Twitter, tagging #ShowUsYourStack, #PepsiSweepstakes and @IHOP to ensure that they were among the 2,000 winners. One consumer even received a custom Pepsi Spout, inspired by the iconic IHOP syrup pitchers, to produce the perfect pour to enjoy the beverage.

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