Rumors have swirled around the re-launch of PepsiCo’s Crystal Pepsi brand, beginning with a tweet from a super fan who received a letter from the company. A PepsiCo spokeswoman authenticated the tweeted message, stating “we think Crystal Pepsi fans are going to be happy with what we have planned,” Advertising Age reported in June 2015.

Perhaps ahead of its time, Crystal Pepsi was first launched in 1992 as an alternative to normal colas, associating its clear and caffeine-free qualities with purity. Initial success even spurred a Coca-Cola launch for Tab Clear. However, quick sales declines in 1993 resulted in Crystal Pepsi’s exit from the market in 1994, followed by a short appearance as Crystal From Pepsi, which featured a new reformulated citrus flavor.

Fast forward to 2015, voices for free-from formulations, natural claims, and real ingredients are louder than ever, with artificial ingredients being one of the major pressures on the carbonated soft drink category. According to Mintel’s Carbonated Soft Drinks: Spotlight on Natural/Craft US 2015 report, the majority of US consumers (57%) agree that carbonated soft drinks made with natural ingredients are healthier than those made with artificial ingredients. A similar percentage of consumers also agree that they would buy natural versions of their favorite soft drink brand, if it existed.

57% of US consumers agree that CSDs made with natural ingredients are healthier than those made with artificial ingredients.

Crystal Pepsi’s rumored re-entrance to the US market would play on current natural and health trends. If the company sticks with its original flavor positioned as a clear, cola-alternative, PepsiCo has potential to reach consumers who are wary about how all-natural versions might taste. For example, 42% of consumers worry that natural versions of their favorite soda brand will not taste the same.

While Crystal Pepsi was not an all-natural beverage, it will most likely highlight being free from artificial colors. Per Mintel’s Free-from Food Trends US 2015 report, “free of artificial colors” is one of the top desired claims consumers wish they would find more often on product packaging, second only to “free of artificial sweeteners” (another pressure on the category). The desire to see more products free of artificial coloring increases with aging generations. This preference may aid cola brands that are looking for ways to reach health-minded Baby Boomers and older consumers, who are more likely to be low users of regular CSDs compared to younger generations. The nostalgic value of Crystal Pepsi may also hold some appeal for the group, who likely remember its first appearance in the early 90’s.

Drinks go clear, CSD align with sparkling waters

Recent stigmas associated with the CSD category are pushing some brands to separate themselves from any negative perceptions related to the category itself. Select products are dropping soft drink and soda labels, instead defining themselves as sparkling or carbonated beverages. In particular, the absence of coloring allows carbonated beverages to better align themselves with sparkling waters, a category that is trending due to positive health perceptions, according to Mintel’s Bottled Water US 2015 report. In an example of this, Dry Soda Co.’s web page and product line were rebranded as Dry Sparkling.

Consumers perceive products that appear less processed and more natural as healthier. As the CSD category struggles with artificial ingredient concerns, companies are identifying attributes consumers dislike and are stripping them out, artificial coloring included. Addressing the need for natural colas, sparkling water company LaCroix launched NiCola, a color-free, sweetener-free and calorie-free sparkling water, with recent reviews hailing its cola taste and smell. Also going clear, no-calorie, stevia-sweetened brand Zevia announced a reformulation in May 2015. After dropping its caramel color usage, the brand’s line of 15 flavors is now color-free and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Not limited to carbonated soft drinks, other beverages are also going color-free. Some water enhancer brands now offer clear varieties, such as Great Value Simply Clear Drink Enhancer or Water Sensations Clear Liquid Water Infusion. The concept is not new to the category, with Kool-Aid’s Invisible mix launching as early as 2005. However, similar to Crystal Pepsi, the product was likely underappreciated at the time. Per Mintel’s Non-alcoholic Water Enhancers US 2015 report, more than one in five respondents aged 18-34 are interested in clear beverage enhancers. As aversions to artificial ingredients increase, the absence of coloring helps align products as natural – and increase better-for-you product perceptions.

Elizabeth Sisel is a beverage analyst at Mintel where she is responsible for writing monthly analysis reports providing strategic insight and consultancy across several categories, including alcohol, non-alcohol and beverage packaging.

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