Slice bets on nostalgia factor with summer relaunch
Two Chicago-based companies — Dormitus Brands and Spiral Sun Ventures — are planning to relaunch the Slice soda brand sometime later this summer, according to the Chicago Tribune. Both companies are run by entrepreneur Mark Thomann, who is described as an expert in intellectual property and indoor farming.
Thomann told the Tribune that the reintroduced Slice will have less sugar, fewer calories and be sweetened with fruit juice. Development is now underway, but he said that the relaunched product probably won't hit shelves nationwide until at least August.
The current owner of Slice's trademark rights, New Slice Ventures, LLC, acquired them from PepsiCo, which launched the brand in 1984 and started phasing it out in 2000. New Slice Ventures owns the rights to use the name Slice and its related image, as well as New Slice, Diet Slice, Slice Mandarin Orange and Lemon Lime Slice.
Thomann told the Tribune he has a "solid plan" behind the relaunch of Slice that could lead to great profitability in the next five years. Even though soda sales are declining as people turn to healthier and less-sugary drinks such as sparkling water, tea and bottled water, Thomann said there's a place in the market for a slightly sweeter product, particularly one consumers recall fondly.
Beverage giants such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo might beg to differ. They have been investing their R&D in healthier drink options, debuting sparkling water brands and repackaging spring water products as flavored ones. Coca-Cola bought Mexican sparkling water brand Topo Chico last fall, but also recently gave its Diet Coke line a packaging and flavor update. Nestle is rolling out regional sparkling spring water products this month, and PepsiCo debuted its "bubly" no-calorie flavored sparkling water — the latest water product launch by Big Soda.
Still, the revamped version of Slice seems to trend more toward the better-for-you side of the soda category and could pique the attention of health-conscious and nostalgic consumers.
When PepsiCo brought Slice in 1984, it was the first soda brand to contain 10% real fruit juice. Consumers instantly took to the product and, by 1987, Slice had 3.2% of the $40-billion market, according to The New York Times. Three years later, that dropped to 2.1% due to a combination of high production costs, skepticism about the future of sodas containing fruit juice and the difficulty of establishing a new brand in a competitive market. Despite PepsiCo adding more flavors and some diet varieties, the brand slowly declined and was eventually discontinued.
Reintroducing Slice now is definitely a gamble, but its backers seem comfortable. If it proves popular by tapping into memories for baby boomers and winning new fans among millennials and Gen Xers, the trademark owners can spin it off to a major beverage or other firm and invest their capital somewhere else. If the revamped product doesn't take, Slice can return to the trash heap of historic brands that have had their day.
Other firms have reinvigorated brands from days gone by to positive effect. Leaf Brands just relaunched Wacky Wafers to appreciative fans who adored the candy as kids and can now share that memory with their children. While that particular brand fits into a small niche, Slice was well-known among older consumers, although it will need to be introduced to younger generations. With some trendy packaging, free samples at concerts and other youth-centered events and solid social media marketing, that obstacle shouldn't be too difficult to overcome.
But if the new Slice formula tastes significantly different than the original, Thomann may have a problem. Consumers like to re-experience brands they enjoyed in the past and won't be thrilled if the latest model is wildly different from what they remember.
Slice's current owners should heed the lesson of Coca-Cola's New Coke formula disaster — new is not always better, and there is value in sticking to tried-and-true formulas.