Review: Red Bull Simply Cola

Back in March, we leaked information from a brochure on Red Bull Simply Cola, a cola outing from the folks at Red Bull GmbH. Other than the Sugar Free version of Red Bull, Simply Cola is the only other product spinoff from the popular energy drink franchise.

While returning to Chicago from a wedding in Kentucky, we discovered Red Bull Simply Cola for sale at a Speedway gas station for $1.50. It looks like the fuel franchise may be part of a test rollout of the drink, per some of the point of sale signage we saw.

It’s packaged in the standard 8.4 oz. can associated with regular Red Bull, but features a more-pronounced red/silver/blue color scheme, with the colors and name aligned at angles. A callout at the top of the can refers to this as “Natural Cola”, while the bottom denotes “Strong & Natural”.

As we mentioned in our sneak preview of this product, there is a wide variety of ingredients in this drink. Here’s a complete list:

Red Bull Simply Cola
Water, sugar, carbon dioxide, natural flavor (caramel), natural flavors from plant extracts (galangal, vanilla, mustard seed, lime, kola nut, cacao, licorice, cinnamon, lemon, ginger, coca leaf, orange, corn mint, pine, cardamom, mace, clove), lemon juice concentrate, caffeine from coffee beans

The drink is made in Switzerland and will provide you with 90 calories per 8.4 oz. can. Red Bull Simply Cola will also add 10 mg of sodium and 22 g of sugars to your life.

Interestingly, you actually won’t find a ton of caffeine in this drink. Per a report on BevNet, Red Bull Simply Cola contains 3.8 mg/oz. of caffeine, which is only slightly higher than Coca-Cola Classic (2.9 mg/oz.) and Pepsi (3.2 mg/oz.). By comparison, regular Red Bull has 9.64 mg/oz. of caffeine, while other citrus-flavored soft drinks like Mountain Dew (4.5 mg/oz.) and Vault (5.83 mg/oz.) have substantially higher amounts.

The drink is colored like you’d expect from a cola, perhaps with more of a lighter brown color that’s more translucent. It smells like a standard Pepsi or Coke-type drink, which is odd given how these scents are emanating from a Red Bull can… complete with a unique red pull-tab with a bull-shaped punch out.

As for the taste, not bad. It’s definitely more Coke-like than Pepsi. Not very syrupy, more textured, with sort of a nutty, woody experience. You won’t mistake it for a standard Red Bull… this one’s definitely a cola. There are some unique flavors present which can probably be attributed to the previously-mentioned “natural” ingredients, but you’d have a hard time pinpointing exactly what you were tasting. The finish is somewhat bitter, with an aftertaste hinting at something you’d typically find with a drink that uses an artificial sweetener… though obviously none is listed on the can.

While the taste is pretty good, one wonders what the point of this drink really is? I mean, you’d expect a product with the name “Red Bull” and “cola” in the title to taste like a Coke/Pepsi but to also “give you wings” as they like to mention in their advertising. Yet there is very little caffeine or other “buzz” found in this drink. So what’s the big differentiator? The “natural” ingredients? I’m sorry, but that’s not going to fly, especially if you are looking at the premium pricing of $1.50 for 8.4 oz., while you could easily get a 20 oz. PET bottle of something for the same price to do the trick.

According to numbers from Nielsen, Red Bull still owns 39% of the energy drink market, making it the leader in terms of dollar share (when compared to Monster’s 24%). However, Red Bull has slid behind Monster when you look at volume numbers. According to Beverage Digest, Monster owns 27.6% compared to Red Bull’s 24.6% [Source].

If Red Bull is banking on their name recognition and strong following to help them in the cola market with a drink that does not feature the core elements that make their flagship work, then they are in for some serious hurt. It’s no secret that the carbonated soft drink market is shrinking in sales yearly; this drink will not help that.

Overall, I liked Red Bull Simply Cola. While basically a standard cola, the unique blend of flavors and clean taste were a nice change of pace. However, one must ask “what’s the point of this drink?” when you consider the trends in the CSD market, premium pricing, and comparatively low caffeine levels from a brand known for giving you a lift when you need it.

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