Cold Beverages: 
More Than Traditional Soft Drinks

Cold Beverages: 
More Than Traditional Soft Drinks

By Angela Altass

Attracting customers to the cold beverage section at a convenience store means more than just stocking up on traditional carbonated soft drinks. With health and wellness on their minds, people are looking for variety and functionality.

AAs the world grapples with a global pandemic, beverages are one of the essential products that consumers have counted on to continue to be available.

“Beverage workers were deemed essential during the first wave of the pandemic and our members have worked extremely hard to follow guidelines, keep their employees safe and preserve the integrity of the supply chain in these unprecedented times,” says Jim Goetz, president of the Canadian Beverage Association. “Through these efforts, the industry has ensured that shelves remain stocked so Canadians have access to the beverages that are part of their daily lives and that they depend on.”

Consumers are looking for alternatives to mainstream beverage offerings,” notes Mark Rusk, national sales and engagement manager, Wallace & Carey. 

“Beverages, like kombucha, cold press, flavoured teas and fresh juices are seeing more new offerings than ever before,” says Rusk. “Consumers are seeking better-for-you beverages with clean ingredients and low sugar.”

Wallace & Carey carries a wide range of both traditional and non-traditional beverages in various sizes.

“Beverages have high turns, good margins and are easy to display – all things that modern convenience stores are looking for,” comments Rusk. “Beverage sales have been growing exponentially during the pandemic and tend to have better margins than other products. Many c-stores are seeing double digit growth in their beverage categories.”

Rusk advises experimenting with cooler placement with new beverages at eye level, using door clings to attract the attention of consumers to new products and setting up impulse displays at checkouts.

In 2014, some of Canada’s most prominent beverage companies launched a Balance Calories initiative with lower calorie options and more still, carbonated or low-carbonated water products appearing on shelves. 

“Consumers want variety and options, including non-GMO, gluten-free, caffeine-free,” says Norm Snyder, CEO, Reed’s Inc. “Consumers are turning away from the aspartame/sodium benzoate laden beverages. They want something that’s delicious, refreshing and has real ingredients.”

Health and wellness is a trend that is growing and part of mainstream consumer shopping patterns, states Snyder, adding that people will pay a little more for a beverage if they know they are getting something that is a healthier alternative.

“We’re seeing convenience chains increase cold sets beyond just the mainstream carbonated soft drinks to include a wide variety of natural and healthier-for-you options,” says Snyder. “Today’s convenience store shopper wants healthier options like zero sugar naturally with no aspartame, keto certified, GMO free, etc.”

Reed’s and Virgil’s deliver as natural alternative beverage choices, says Snyder.

“Reed’s Really Real Ginger Ale is ginger ale with actual fresh ginger in it,” he says. “Reed’s and Virgil’s expansion into 20 oz resealable packaging and slim 12 oz cans helps retailers to carry, and for consumers to choose, healthier options. Convenience store retailers win by gaining more margin and penny profit, while the consumer ultimately wins with a healthier choice that has no preservatives, artificial ingredients, flavours, or colours.

Variety and innovation are critical, given the more impulsive nature of the Canadian convenience store shopping experience, says Sassan Jahan, vice president of marketing with PepsiCo Beverages Canada.

“While Canadians are on the go, tasty hydration beverages like soft drinks and iced teas have always been the dominant beverages sold in convenience stores,” says Jahan. “However, we are seeing a greater demand for more functional needs like energy/performance with beverages such as Gatorade or Rockstar since the onset of the pandemic last year. We know that most beverages purchased in grocery stores are often planned in advance, whereas Canadians tend to be more likely to buy new exciting products while visiting convenience stores.”

PepsiCo Beverages Canada recently brought several new products into convenience stores nationwide: 

New: MTN Dew is going pink with the brand new soft drink, MTN Dew Major Melon which is bursting with watermelon flavour.

  • New: Propel Electrolyte Water Beverage: Enhanced with Gatorade electrolytes, available in three refreshing flavours; Kiwi Strawberry, Grape and Berry. 
  • Rockstar Energy Drink is unveiling a new can look – new look, same taste. Made for consumers who need an extra boost of energy.
  • bubly sparkling water beverage: available in 473 mL cans at convenience stores in the three flavours – blackberry bubly, cherry bubly and lime bubly, which always make you #crackasmile with no calories. no sweeteners. all smiles!
  • “Many convenience stores have loyalty programs for their customers, which have proven to be an excellent approach to promotion,” says Jahan. “Engaging with your customers through your store’s social channels also drives awareness of the new products available in store. Our PepsiCo Beverage Canada team proudly works closely with a number of convenience stores to build and execute engagement programs specifically around new product launches or priority occasions, such as summer or hockey.”

Sometimes, it’s a refreshing water beverage that consumers are seeking and there are certain brands that tend to catch their eye in convenience stores.

Icelandic Glacial premium spring water is sustainably sourced from Iceland with a naturally occurring pH of 8.4. Company CEO Reza Mirza refers to “consumer centric innovation based on our core values of purity, sustainability and authenticity” as the lifeblood of Icelandic Glacial. Products Include:

  • 500mL Icelandic Glacial still water
  • 500mL Icelandic Glacial sparkling water – each flavored product contains zero calories and is free of sugar/artificial sweeteners; each flavor is sourced from its country of origin to arouse the senses!
  • Unflavored Sparkling
  • Sicilian Lemon
  • Tahitian Lime
  • Tarocco Blood Orange
  • 750mL Icelandic Glacial still water with Sports Cap for the on-the-go / active lifestyle consumer

“With each new product launch, Icelandic Glacial strives to minimize its environmental impact and bring the purest tasting water on earth to consumers in new and convenient ways,” says Michelle Grieco, director of marketing, Icelandic Glacial. 

Rubicon Exotic recently launched their one litre coconut water beverage into the Canadian market.

“We identified that although there are many different coconut water brands, we stand for producing beverages that are true to the nature of the product, which we felt was lacking in terms of the authenticity of coconut water,” says Anjalee Nagrecha, marketing director, Rubicon Exotic. “We are also going to be launching a 330 ml impulse version soon, hopefully in the summer months. It will be well suited for the convenience channel. We are also launching a new beverage: a pineapple and coconut flavoured juice drink that is almost a play on a pina colada. We will also be launching our flavours into an impulse, chilled, lightly sparkled or carbonated version, which should be available towards the end of the summer months. They actually contain real fruit and there will be a lower calorie version with less sugar as well.”

Rubicon Exotic is a specialist in exotic fruit flavours, such as mango, passionfruit, guava, lychee and soursop. They also have 200 ml juices for children in mango apple, guava apple and lychee apple flavours. 

“There are also some exotic fruits that we are looking into, one being dragon fruit,” says Nagrecha. “Consumers are looking for variety. We pioneered the single fruit exotic beverage category in both the UK and Canada and today, more than ever, with the diversity of people in this country, people are more fascinated with trying something new or having a taste of a fruit that is from their home country. People are also looking for functionality; products that are fortified with vitamins, nutrients and clean ingredients.”

Mood boosting fruit is a growing trend, notes Nagrecha. 

“The beverage category is looking at mood boosting as a new trend going forward and some of our flavours, namely pomegranate, mango and soursop, are highlighted in the top 10 mood boosting fruits and vegetables, so we are very well aligned with this,” states Nagrecha. “We work with convenience stores to create POS promotional material to engage the consumer. The functional cold beverage category is set to rise above $208 billion in 2024 so having something unique and functional, rather than just the traditional grab and go, is very important.”

Having a wide variety in stock is the key to success during cold beverage season, says Jon Silver, president, Unique Foods (Canada) Inc. 

“More selection means more customers will come in to purchase their preferred beverages,” says Silver. “We are coming out with an Orangina Blood Orange as a limited time offering.”

Guru Organic Energy recently announced that its plant-based energy drinks would soon be available in over 1,130 Circle K and 140 Winks convenience stores across Canada. 

“Guru Energy is the world’s first natural energy drink providing a clean source of energy to sustain demanding lifestyles,” says Amal Gayed, marketing director, Guru Organic Energy. “We are on a mission to clean up the energy drink industry, one can at a time, by delivering good taste and good energy. Guru offers a healthy alternative in the $15 billion energy drink market, which is the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage category.”

Energy drinks are traffic drivers in convenience and gas bars across Canada, driving high velocity in sales, says Gayed. 

“We recommend that healthy energy drinks, like Guru, which are increasingly sought after by today’s health-conscious consumer, be well chilled and given prominence in store merchandising plans,” says Gayed. “Effective sales tactics include in-store sampling as well as disruptive point-of-sale marketing initiatives. Guru has a strong track record of success driving consumer loyalty through trial and direct interaction and it is important for convenience store owners to work closely with companies like Guru on these activations.”

There are many different reasons customers enter convenience stores and many types of consumers, notes Gayed.

“Whether they are looking to quench thirst or for an energy boost during a busy day, it is important for convenience stores to offer a variety of well-chilled options to meet consumer needs, including healthy alternatives for health-conscious consumers.” 

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