How Pepsi hopes to get millennials to drink carbonated sugar water again

A fancy new label, but is it a new drink?
A fancy new label, but is it a new drink?
Image: Caleb's Kola
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In an effort to win over the growing segment of consumers who associate big soda brands with chemicals and obesity, Pepsi is returning to its roots. The beverage and snack company, which started out purveying carbonated soft drinks, has relied for quarter after quarter after quarter on profits from snack sales to offset falling soda sales.

With the launch of Caleb’s Kola, a “craft” soda named for the founder of Pepsi, Caleb Bradham, and modeled after his original 1893 formula, Pepsi is showing investors that it’s not giving up on the soda business any time soon. Pepsi isn’t oblivious to the fact that a growing number of Americans, especially those picky twenty-somethings that seem to be throwing the whole consumer goods industry for a loop, just don’t want to drink conventional soda. So it’s capitalizing on the popularity of all things artisanal—from craft beer to handmade soap—and betting on this: People still love sugary soft drinks.

They just need a new story to go with them: Et voilá, Caleb’s Kola is here with a trendy blue label, on a classic glass bottle, and with a short list of earthy ingredients. Well, actually, the ingredients list isn’t that short. Though the marketing materials emphasize a simple trio of sparkling water, fair trade cane sugar, and kola nut extract (augmented with spices and citrus oil), the full list includes caramel color, caffeine, and additives such as gum arabic.

Are those ingredients “better” than the ones in regular Pepsi? Arguably, yes, if you’re trying to steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup and you like the idea of fair trade sugar. But don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s a meaningful difference between “sparkling water,” the first listed ingredient in Caleb’s Kola, and the carbonated water in Pepsi. That said, a 10-ounce bottle of Caleb’s Kola has 29 grams of sugar and 110 calories, while a 12-ounce can of Pepsi has 41 grams of sugar and 150 calories.

Caleb’s Kola is being sold in select Costco stores in New York, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.