Coca-Cola North America will add more sparkle, and even a little caffeinated pick-me-up, to its fast-growing water lineup with the March 2020 launch of AHA.

The new sparkling water brand’s unexpected yet accessible flavor pairings, vibrant packaging and fresh marketing will meet evolving consumer demands and cut through a crowded category that continues to grow at double-digit rates.

“As the largest and fastest-growing part of the water business, mainstream flavored sparkling water is a segment we know we must double-down on,” said Celina Li, VP, Water, Coca-Cola North America. “AHA is our big-bet brand in this big-bet category.”

Eight bold flavor fusions – Lime + Watermelon, Strawberry + Cucumber, Citrus + Green Tea, Black Cherry + Coffee, Orange + Grapefruit, Apple + Ginger, Blueberry + Pomegranate and Peach + Honey – pair widely appealing fruit flavors with trending but less expected ones. The calorie-free, sodium-free offerings will hit stores in multi-packs of 12-fl.-oz. cans and in 16-fl.-oz. individual cans.

Extensive research and consumer insights informed the development process that brought AHA from concept to prototype in just over six months. In addition to mining category purchase data, Coca-Cola spoke to thousands of consumers – from sparkling water loyalists, to occasional drinkers, to those who’ve tried a brand or two but haven’t found what they like.

“There are unmet needs for consumers in the category today, both for those who don’t drink sparkling water regularly today and for those who do,” said Julie Siwemuke, sparkling water director, Coca-Cola North America. “When shoppers browse the sparkling water aisle, they’re looking for interesting and approachable flavors that offer a refreshing treat. They’re also drawn to fun, colorful brands with personality.”

Americans are drinking sparkling water in more occasions and times of day – and for more reasons – than ever. The AHA team intentionally developed aromatic flavor combinations to meet these evolving needs. For example, Lime + Watermelon and Strawberry + Cucumber profiles meet the desire for flavor-forward refreshment. And Citrus + Green Tea and Black Cherry + Coffee include 30 mg of added caffeine for a little morning or afternoon pick-me-up.

The team started with initial list of 800 potential flavors before testing 50 combinations and, ultimately, landing on the final lineup of eight AHA flavors. They also consulted a diverse range of customers – across channels like grocery, drug, mass retail and convenience – throughout the development process. Collectively, these retailers urged the company to bring a smart, differentiated offering to the shelf.

“Our partners told us, ‘We don’t need yet another lime- or berry-flavored sparkling water. We need something fresh and new that can help grow the category’,” Siwemuke said. “Retailers truly believe in the future of sparkling water and are looking to Coca-Cola to lead. They’re as excited about AHA as we are.”

AHA will both appeal to existing sparkling water drinkers and recruit new fans through inclusive and inviting marketing.

“As we started to create the essence of this new brand and what we wanted it to stand for, vitality and positive potential were at the top of the list,” Siwemuke added. “We knew we wanted the name and look to be expressive and full of life, and for our unique flavor pairings and sensory experiences to create an element of discovery, differentiation and delightful surprise.” 

AHA will be the first major brand launch in a decade for Coca-Cola North America (Gold Peak, now a billion-dollar tea brand, debuted in 2006). The rollout comes as Americans’ thirst for drinks without sugar or calories – but with fizz and flavor – continues to grow. AHA joins Coke’s sparkling water portfolio alongside smartwater sparkling, an enhanced premium offering, and Topo Chico, a fast-growing sparkling mineral water sourced from Mexico.

Retail sales of Coke North America’s sparkling water portfolio – which offers complementary flavors and brand propositions for a range of palates at different price points and package options – were up 27% in 2018 (Source: Nielsen). These brands are part of Coke’s broader water portfolio, which is anchored by DASANI (the No. 1 national water brand) and smartwater (the No. 1 premium water).

“Sparkling water has had another very big year, and we are well-positioned to increase our presence in the category in a big, bold way,” Li said. “In addition to our popular, fast-growing offerings from smartwater and Topo Chico, AHA brings another exciting entrant to the category that is forward-thinking and will not just inspire people to try it, but give them a reason to choose the brand over and over again.”

AHA will replace DASANI Sparkling at retail, which has been on the market since 2014. DASANI Sparkling will continue to be available on DASANI PureFill and Coca-Cola Freestyle.

Coca-Cola North America is taking steps to drive growth in multiple segments within the water category, which saw almost as much retail growth as all other NARTD segments combined in 2018.

In 2020, smartwater will enter the leading growth segment in premium water with the launch of smartwater still flavors. The lineup will include flavors like cucumber-lime, strawberry-blackberry, watermelon-mint and pineapple-kiwi and offers shoppers flavor without the bubbles. smartwater’s new still flavor expansion will capitalize on the more than 75% growth of premium flavored still water in 2018 (Source: Nielsen) and joins a full spectrum of smartwater hydration solutions which include alkaline and antioxidant varieties.

Shane Grant, president, Still Beverages Business Unit, Coca-Cola North America, said these innovations not only demonstrate the company’s commitment to invest in the fast-growing water category but also the cultural change that is occurring to approach new growth opportunities with discipline, but also to be agile, move faster and take smart risks.

“We’re constantly expanding our portfolio with new categories, flavors and packages,” Grant said. “This vision is coming to life through the fastest-growing category in our largest market with innovations that meet evolving needs and preferences. Water is a primary example of how Coca-Cola North America is embracing a true total beverage company strategy with exciting new brands like AHA.”

Beverage, News