PR for new cola poses challenge for Pepsi

PURCHASE, NY: Pepsi's PR challenge in launching a new, mid-calorie cola called Pepsi Edge will be to not hurt the image or sales of its diet Pepsi products.

PURCHASE, NY: Pepsi's PR challenge in launching a new, mid-calorie cola called Pepsi Edge will be to not hurt the image or sales of its diet Pepsi products.

"They have to target the right consumer," said Gary Hemphill, SVP of information services with Beverage Marketing Corp. in New York. "They're not targeting the pure diet drinker."

Rather, Pepsi PR and marketing efforts for Edge, which will have half the sugar of regular Pepsi and is due out this summer, should concentrate on people who have either cut back on regular soda consumption or are drinking a combination of regular and diet sodas.

Pepsi, in announcing the new product, said it plans to target what it estimates to be 60 million consumers who alternate between diet and regular colas.

Hemphill noted that carbonated soft drink sales in the US have been essentially flat in recent years, with growth coming only in the diet category.

Rolling out Pepsi Edge likely won't help the company quiet its most strident critics in the ongoing obesity debate, said Gene Grabowski, a VP at Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, DC.

"The soft drink industry is to be congratulated for offering choice and options, but there are certain critics who will never be satisfied," Grabowski said.

Those calling for removal of soft drinks from schools likely will not settle for Pepsi substituting Edge for regular Pepsi in vending machines, for example. "What's being provided in schools will be scrutinized carefully," he said.

Coke has been testing its own mid-calorie offering but hasn't confirmed it will offer it this year.

"The challenge is to make the mid-calorie product without hurting your no-calorie product, and without suggesting the flavor isn't there in your no-calorie product," Grabowski said.

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