Red Bull, the brand that made energy drinks hip, is about to offer something it's never before tried: flavors.
On Monday, the company will announce plans for cranberry-, lime- and blueberry-flavored Red Bull, to be sold in red, silver and blue cans, and launched in March. The line will be called Red Bull Editions.
The move comes at a time of growing competition in the energy drink category, which researcher Mintel projects will grow 86% to nearly $12 billion within five years. Energy drink sales have rocketed as the target has expanded well beyond students cramming for tests or mixing with alcohol at parties to a much wider market including office workers and truck drivers.
Red Bull's action might appear to be a signal that it's playing catch-up with rivals Monster, Rock Star and even Starbucks Refreshers, that have lots of flavor options.
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But Red Bull says it's simply responding to consumer demand.
"Taste is a barrier for the category, and taste is a barrier for Red Bull," says Amy Taylor, vice president of marketing. "After 12 years in the U.S., we can now introduce flavors without confusion. It's about expanding the consumer base."
In test marketing, the new flavors resulted in 60% incremental sales growth, Taylor says. Although she declined to be specific, Taylor hinted that this may be just the beginning of flavor expansion at Red Bull. "We have the intention to grow this category and this brand."
Even then, Red Bull is late to the flavor party, brand consultant Robert Passikoff says. "This is the kind of thing they should have gotten out in front of," he says. "In this category, what delights people today becomes expected tomorrow."
Experimentation has not always gone perfectly at Red Bull. Last year, it dropped an unsuccessful cola line after several years on the market.
Monster Energy Drink, which declined to comment, got out in front of flavor options years ago. Monster's domestic market share in volume, at 34.8%, is bigger than Red Bull's, which is at 29.5%, trade publication Beverage Digest says.
But in 2012 dollar volume, Red Bull leads with a 42 share vs. 35 for Monster, Nielsen says.
"Red Bull's done awfully well and it's hard to second-guess their success," Beverage Digest editor John Sicher says, "but consumers do like choice."
There's no end in sight for growth in the category. Last year, the category saw 16% volume growth, Sicher says. For the year, Red Bull's sales are up 17% compared with 2011, Taylor says.
"We are open to innovation," she says.
By Bruce Horovitz