Have you ever looked at soda flavors released in places like Japan and wondered, "why can't we get creative new stuff like that here?" Cultural differences aside, I believe one reason is marketing… or lack thereof. Case in point, Pepsi X Dragonfruit. It's a different flavor, bit with the lame packaging and branding attached to this product, it's destined to underperform. In the end, it supports a self-fulfilling prophecy that flavor innovation isn't worth it.
As we noted in our preview story, Pepsi X came out of PepsiCo's sponsorship of Fox's The X-Factor singing competition show. Part of the promotion involved taste tests across the country to select a new flavor. In the end, Dragonfruit was selected as the winner.
That's all fine and dandy. In the end, it's a new limited edition flavor of Pepsi. Pretty simple to understand, right? But then Pepsi had to muck it all up with a new fake subbrand called "Pepsi X". Um, what exactly is that? Think of the questions asked by your average shopper. Is it diet? How is it different from Pepsi? Dragonfruit? The side of the packaging proclaims that this is "The Pepsi with The X-Factor". Oh, that helps a lot. Thanks. This type of "brand with no purpose other than to confuse" reminds me a lot of the Diet Pepsi Jazz lineup from 2006-7.
Aside from the name and fake hierarchy, there is the package design. The whole purpose of limited time offerings is to provide short-term sales gains for the product line. It's something Mountain Dew does quite well. One element that is important when you are working with an LTO is to make sure folks actually can find your product. It should stand out, proclaim the limited edition awesomeness, and showcase the different flavor.
Now look at the bottle of Pepsi X Dragonfruit.
When this is sitting on a store shelf, it blends right in with other Pepsi lines. If you don't look carefully, you might mistake it for Wild Cherry Pepsi or one of the Diet Pepsi flavors. The "X" branding is very subdued, there are goofy looking dots all over the label for some reason, and the attempt of a more metallic shine is quite lost. It's a bland-looking product. (This same mistake was made with the first release of Pepsi Throwback. The blue packaging looked too much like existing Pepsi. Upon the second release, the packaging drastically changed.)
I say all this because Pepsi X Dragonfruit is actually a pretty tasty drink that we liked quite a bit. Unfortunately, because of the way everything else seems to be botched regarding its rollout, I can't see it succeeding very well. These days, the leading beverage brands need to act more like brand managers & marketers rather than drink manufacturers. Coke understands this quite well. Someone in Purchase, NY missed the memo.
OK, end of rant. Let's get to the drink!
Pepsi X Dragonfruit is light brown in color, lighter and more tan than traditional Pepsi. When poured, it also has a substantial carbonated foamy head vs. standard Pepsi. There's a slightly fruity scent combined with a traditional cola ambience.
Sweetness is a theme throughout this beverage. The initial sip starts like traditional Pepsi but quickly changes to add layers of spices, fruit flavor, and just a little burning in the back of your throat. Despite the hint at it being inspired by the dragonfruit, I actually taste a lot of parallels to Pepsi Holiday Spice (2004) or Jones Soda Ginger Bread Soda (2011).
While this drink is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, there's also acesulfame potassium and sucralose in this drink. I didn't really detect much of the artificial sweeteners, but others who tested it with me were able to pick them out. Given that this drink is still 110 calories per serving, I'm guessing Ace-K/sucralose is in place to help keep the calorie count manageable. Still, the sweetness must push those calories way up if they needed to add artificial sweeteners and still have such a high number. Also, it's odd for Pepsi to "sneak" those into a Pepsi-branded drink like this. I guess the "X" in "Pepsi X" stands for "we threw some fake stuff in."
I like the more complex flavor profile found in Pepsi X Dragonfruit. There are more flavors to pick out and in some ways, you can detect the cola aspects better, even though it's all pretty much non-natural processing that's making that happen (think a knockoff of Pepsi Natural or Red Bull Simply Cola).
I'm not sure this would work as a permanent flavor, but as something special for a limited time, it's a winner. Too bad it's saddled with ridiculous promotional messaging, unnecessary brands, and a design that should have been discarded before it even moved to production.
Pepsi X Dragonfruit
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural flavor, phosphoric acid, potassium citrate, potassium sorbate (preserves freshness), caffeine, acesulfame potassium, gum arabic, sucralose
A 12 oz can contains 110 calories, 35 mg sodium, and 31 g carbs (30 g sugars). Caffeine content is 3.58 mg/oz.