Eventually, this speculation was confirmed by John Sicher at Beverage Digest when he noted via Twitter on August 24 that "PepsiCo's new Sierra Mist Natural, with sugar instead of HFCS, will start sale at some national retailers week of Aug. 29, say sources."
According to Pepsi and other sources such as Advertising Age, Sierra Mist Natural is taking the unprecedented step of actually replacing its namesake product. Though it's doing it with a different name (Sierra Mist Natural vs. Sierra Mist), here we have a situation where the high fructose corn syrup product is being replaced with "real sugar" on a permanent basis… something Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback, and Dr Pepper "Made with Real Sugar" fans seemingly have wanted for a few years now.
However, in this situation, what did PepsiCo really have to lose? Sierra Mist trails behind Coke's Sprite pretty significantly in market share. As a differentiator, it's worth a shot changing the sweetener to make this lemon lime brand seem attractive. Now granted, here at BevReview, we've not been shy in admitting that we've never really liked Sierra Mist. Frankly, we thought that Slice or even Storm were superior products. But alas, Pepsi continues to shove this product down the throats of consumers.
It's also seen its share of limited-time product extensions that attempted to add a little life into the brand, including Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash, Sierra Mist Lemon Squeeze, Sierra Mist Undercover Orange, and Sierra Mist Ruby Splash. We won't even go into all the name changes (Diet Sierra Mist to Sierra Mist Free back to Diet Sierra Mist) or logo redesigns. It's not been a pretty ride for this lemon lime.
The "Natural" name gets its heritage from the niche Pepsi Natural, which debuted in 2009 as a sugar-sweetened soft drink that tasted pretty good, but didn't really have the feel of its namesake. Pepsi has also trademarked the name "Sierra Mist Essence", but obviously went with the more familiar "Natural" moniker.
So, what's the big difference in Sierra Mist Natural? Let's take a look at the ingredients…
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavor, potassium benzoate (preserves freshness), potassium citrate, ascorbic acid and calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor)
Sierra Mist Natural
Carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, natural flavor, potassium citrate
In all likelihood, the "real sugar" being used in Sierra Mist Natural is a combination of cane & beet sugars, as Pepsi has confirmed in the past with their Throwback products. If it wasn't, such as featuring the more-pricy cane sugar exclusively, I'd see the making a big deal about that in the marketing.
Per an article in Advertising Age, customers wanted something "natural", and if this type of sugar pulls that off from a marketing perspective, Pepsi is probably thinking "why spend the money?" on the more expensive stuff.
PepsiCo is eliminating Sierra Mist in favor of Sierra Mist Natural, which is sweetened with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The move, which has been in the works for about 18 months, is two-fold. Research showed that brand loyalty in the lemon-lime category is lower than it is in the cola category. And the natural food and beverage category is exploding.
"There's not a strong reason to choose one [lemon-lime] brand over another. … And when we asked consumers what would re-engage them in soda, 'natural' was the No. 1 concept," Ms. Mangelsdorf said. "The notion of a mainstream lemon-lime soda felt like a huge territory."
Ms. Mangelsdorf expects the shift will make Sierra Mist "extremely competitive" with Sprite, adding that the brand should easily exceed its previous peak performance figures. (According to Beverage Digest, Sprite is more than four times larger than Sierra Mist, with a 5.5% share in 2009 compared to Sierra Mist's 1.3% share and 7Up's 1% share).
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners created Sierra Mist's new graphics, as well as the campaign, which breaks Sept. 20. It will include 15- and 30-second spots, as well as digital, radio, print and out-of-home.
The last part of that quote notes the new look for Sierra Mist Natural. Yes, once again the label gets a redesign.
As you can see, there's a larger emphasis on the word "Mist" with a very, very notation of "Sierra". A lighter, more transparent look also conveys the idea that this is a "healthier" beverage.
As has become commonplace, we see the shoutouts of "Made with Real Sugar" and "No artificial ingredients" being proclaimed on the label.
Gone is the phrasing "100% Natural Flavors", which is sort of ironic, since now it's more valid than before. The label on the 20 oz. bottle is translucent in places, showcasing the drink. In addition, the color of the green plastic bottle is lighter in hue vs. the previous Sierra Mist bottle, again given the impression of a look that is closer to water in transparency.
BevReview fan Gregory Koval spotted both Sierra Mist and Sierra Mist Natural side-by-side in a store in Pittsburgh, PA and snapped some photos. You can see the large difference in designs between the two products. However, with the original flavor being phased out, it won't matter much eventually.
So what does this stuff actually taste like? Is Natural better than the original Sierra Mist? We tasted the two products side-by-side and even compared their look when poured into a glass.
While regular Sierra Mist felt heavy and more syrupy, Sierra Mist Natural had a lighter feel to it overall. It possessed a stronger citrus taste that portrayed a strong crispness. It almost felt more carbonated, to be honest. A stronger citrusy scent was also obvious when you first opened the drink.
However, things got a little different the more we explored the drink. Unlike other real sugar lemon lime drinks we've tested, such as Bubble Up, the crisp and clean start to Sierra Mist Natural leaves for a peculiar aftertaste. I've seen some folks mention that it almost tastes like a diet soda. I will admit that at first, this wasn't a very good thing. I mean, seriously, what could go wrong here?
That said, it was a taste that seemed to be acquired quickly over time because as we moved beyond the initial sips of Sierra Mist Natural, the aftertaste actually wasn't an issue. Overall, we really wanted to like this drink because of the "real sugar" element. However, that quirky taste isn't going to help, I'm afraid.
It should be noted that Diet Sierra Mist continues seemingly unchanged from its previous formula. Even though there is a trademark filing for Diet Sierra Mist Natural, that phrasing won't be used at this time.
However, Walton Beverage Co's distributor website notes that "Diet Sierra Mist and Diet Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash will be restaged with great new graphics but will not be converting to Natural until 2011." Additionally, "Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash will also be reformulated to be 'naturally sweetened'."
Will this move to Sierra Mist Natural help the lemon lime fortunes of Pepsi? I guess we'll know for sure in a year or so. But given the history of turbulence in the Sierra Mist brand, does anyone want to place a bet on when the next reboot will be?