Friday, November 21, 2014

The Illusion of Choice

So, you walk down the soft drink aisle at the supermarket and think that among the dozens of flavors and brands you have a robust and meaningful choice. Okay, find a diet cola without aspartame as the chemical sweetener. Oh, you can do it, but you'll be fortunate to locate more than one or two.

Similarly, try to find a regular soda not sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. In other words, sweetened with sugar.

I was at Ralph's just now and I got the hankering for root beer. I looked at all four brands (A&W, Barq's, Big K, and IBC. All four regular ones sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and all four diet sweetened with aspartame. If I recall correctly, Mug is the same story.

Wouldn't  you think that, just for competitive edge, one brand would have a sugar-sweetened root beer and a Splenda or stevia sweetened diet version? And while I'm at it, try to find a "less sweet" soda or a "less sweet" iced tea. In iced tea you get the full ten teaspoons per can or nothing (unsweetened). And, in fact, try to find unsweetened iced tea in more than a couple of brands. That major maker, Lipton, doesn't seem to make it. (Yeah, yeah, I know, consumer preference and all that. But how can consumers prefer something if they never have the choice?)

So, let's hear it for a modestly sugar sweetened root beer or cola or ginger ale.

And while I'm whining, what about more non-carbonated soft drinks? You realize that the phosphoric acid in soft drinks not only puts the bite on your tongue, but it dissolves your teeth, too. Ever see the teeth of a habitual soda swigger? Not a pretty sight.

The bottom line is that foot and drink manufacturers seem to be in a rut, using the same formulas and techniques to make what only appears to be a diversity of products. It reminds me of the old Taco Bell menu: Taco--ground taco meat in a taco shell. Bell Burger--ground taco meat on a hamburger bun. Something or other cup--ground taco meat in a cup.

Here's what will happen.

"Hey, Harry, we need to innovate to stay competitive."

"But Stan, we make ten different soft drinks: Yam Cola, Diet Yam Cola, Cherry Yam Cola, Cherry Diet Yam Cola, 10-Calorie Yam Cola, Organic Yam Cola, Zero Zero Yam Cola, Organic Diet Yam Cola, Organic Cherry Yam Cola--"

"But need something totally new."

"Double sweet Strawberry Yam Cola?"

"No, something like, "Lightly Sweet All Natural Lemonade--Made with Pure Sugar."

"Are you crazy?"

"Let's try it."

"Okay, but it will have to be sold at a premium price to enhance its unique, upscale appeal. I'm thinking four 10-ounce bottles for six dollars. That will give it real cachet."

[Six months later}

"Well, Stan, I hate to say I told you so, but the lemonade didn't sell. Your idea was no good. Don't ever ask us to go against the flow again."

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