PepsiCo spends big each year publicizing its well-known beverage brands such as Mtn Dew, Gatorade and its namesake cola through commercials, promotions and high-profile events like the Super Bowl. But the CPG giant has purposely given a low profile to one of its drinks: a craft offering called Stubborn Soda.
The premium soda features flavor combinations with a twist, including Black Cherry Tarragon, Citrus Hibiscus Orange, Agave Vanilla Cream Soda and Lemon Berry Acai. It also touts other attributes popular with consumers, such as the use of Fair Trade Certified cane sugar and natural flavors.
Perhaps the biggest difference for Stubborn compared to many of the other drinks owned by PepsiCo is that the company eschews traditional retail shelves for it. Instead, it tends to be found at smaller restaurant chains as well as a few bigger ones including Jersey Mike's Subs. Stubborn initially was sold in stores nationwide shortly after its launch in 2016, but PepsiCo chose to end retail sales after 2019 to focus on food service and e-commerce.
Stubborn has proven to be an under-the-radar winner in some restaurants. Scott Finlow, chief marketing officer with PepsiCo Foodservice, said the soda often helps restaurants attract new customers by complementing items on their menus like burgers, sandwiches and fresh options. Stubborn tends to be popular with restaurants that have a customer base interested in natural ingredients.
For PepsiCo, Stubborn can be a useful tool in helping it win new business. Finlow said the company has seen "a higher level of interest" from emerging restaurant brands coming out of COVID-19 as people look for new experiences and gravitate toward craft offerings. In May, PepsiCo heavily promoted Stubborn to people attending the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.
"It's not like we're trying to hide it, but we're being very intentional about which customers" carry it, he said.
The reason for the low profile centers around the fact that certain restaurants may not have the right customer base to benefit from Stubborn. Craft soda drinkers are typically driven by health, new experiences and artisanal quality. There also is the issue of space. With only a few slots at soda fountains, many locations are better served selling the popular soda brands that bring in more revenue and interest a greater number of people.
PepsiCo also is prioritizing spending around brands that latch onto trends popular with consumers, such as Pepsi Zero Sugar or Mtn Dew, Finlow said.
"We're prioritizing our biggest core brands to make sure they're meeting the greatest demands of the business," he said.
While PepsiCo's offerings are popular on retail shelves, the New York company has a large swatch of products that are entirely or nearly exclusively sold in foodservice channels. KFC, Red Lobster and Buffalo Wild Wings have each sold one-off flavors of PepsiCo's Mtn Dew brand.
High demand has led PepsiCo to bring some of its restaurant products into stores. Mtn Dew Baja Blast, which was an exclusive offering at Taco Bell, was eventually brought to retail in 2014 and is an annual summer limited-time offering in stores. Potato chip brand Miss Vickie’s debuted in restaurants but is now also sold through specialty retail and wholesalers such as Sam’s Club, Costco and Amazon.
Finlow said PepsiCo is "always open" to bringing Stubborn back to retail shelves, but that it's unlikely to occur anytime soon. “I don't want to say we have plans to take Stubborn into the retail but we are always going to be evaluating the opportunity ... and what the consumer needs are,” he said.