Boozy Drinks Like Simply Spiked Blur Lines Between Kid and Adult Beverages

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jennifer Maloney headlined “Boozy Drinks Like Simply Spiked, SunnyD Vodka Seltzer Blur Lines Between Kid, Adult Beverages”:

Some states say adult and children’s drinks are getting too close.

Beverage aisles are teeming with new, boozy drinks sold under household-favorite brands such as Mountain Dew, SunnyD, Simply Orange juice and Eggo. The crossover products have multiplied as companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola look to gain a foothold in fast-growing alcoholic beverage categories.

Regulators, consumer groups and public-health experts say these crossover products have the potential to create consumer confusion—and result in a parent inadvertently buying and serving alcohol to underage children.

PepsiCo—which owns the Mountain Dew brand and distributes the alcoholic version, Hard Mountain Dew, in more than a dozen states—has faced criticism for several instances in which Hard Mountain Dew was placed on store shelves adjacent to regular Mountain Dew soda or, in at least one case, near a display of Hot Wheels toys.

PepsiCo’s alcohol distribution arm, Blue Cloud Distribution, said it trains employees to keep alcoholic beverages separate from nonalcoholic ones on store shelves and work with retailers to quickly correct the situation if a product is inadvertently shelved in the wrong spot. In one case, “a toy display had been incorrectly placed in the beer aisle, and we were able to quickly ask the retailer to relocate the toys,” a Blue Cloud spokeswoman said.

Hard Mountain Dew sales totaled $54 million in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 12 in U.S. retail stores tracked by Nielsen, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs. Sales of Simply Spiked, a boozy extension of Coca-Cola’s orange juice brand, totaled $111 million in the same period, Goldman Sachs said. Spirits maker Brown-Forman on Wednesday called this year’s introduction of Jack Daniel’s & Coca-Cola the most successful U.S. product launch in the distiller’s history, saying the canned cocktail now has higher U.S. retail-store distribution than any of its products except for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reviews product labels to ensure that they don’t mislead consumers. States have jurisdiction over where alcoholic products may be sold at retail. Virginia in July implemented a new law barring retailers from shelving alcoholic products next to their nonalcoholic versions. The Illinois Liquor Control Commission in May issued an emergency rule with similar restrictions.

The similarities between the packaging of the alcoholic and nonalcoholic versions of Mountain Dew caught regulators’ attention in Illinois, said Lisa Gardner, executive director of the state’s liquor control commission. “We were really concerned that busy parents, busy caregivers, busy shoppers, as they traversed the marketplace, were inadvertently grabbing the wrong thing.”

Several crossover products are collaborations between soda giants and beer companies. Boston Beer makes Hard Mountain Dew and Molson Coors makes Simply Spiked. In these cases, the brewers are responsible for the packaging, manufacturing and marketing of the alcoholic versions.

Boston Beer said it has made clear distinctions in Hard Mountain Dew’s packaging and advertising, including the word “Hard,” and a colored band around the top of the can that indicates that the drink contains 5% alcohol by volume. The animal illustrations on the cans are oriented toward adults, the brewer said.

Blue Cloud, Coke and Molson Coors said they support the new requirements in Virginia and Illinois.

Marketing alcohol under a brand that is popular among children could make that product appeal to underage drinkers, public-health researchers said.

“The main issue is that these are products that have built brand loyalty among young people,” said David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health.

Underage drinking has declined dramatically in the U.S. over the past two decades. Regulators should monitor crossover products closely so that trend doesn’t reverse, Jernigan and other public-health experts said.

Molson Coors and Boston Beer both said they adhere to beer industry marketing codes to ensure that their products are responsibly marketed to adults over the age of 21. A Molson Coors spokesman said Simply Spiked is packaged in cans, not the clear, long-necked plastic bottles that Simply Orange juice comes in. Simply Spiked cans, packages, point-of-sale advertising and marketing campaigns all include the message that the product contains alcohol, he said.

Coca-Cola decided to create an alcoholic version of Simply because the juice brand is regularly mixed with alcohol and other ingredients to make cocktails and mocktails, a company spokeswoman said.

“We are aware of the additional responsibilities that come with authorizing our brands to be used on alcohol products,” the Coke spokeswoman said. Coca-Cola’s crossover products, which include Jack & Coke and Fresca Mixed, are designed to be distinct from their nonalcoholic counterparts, with distinguishable trademarks, brand names, packaging and marketing, she said.

Consumer advocates and public-health experts criticized the introduction in recent months of SunnyD Vodka Seltzer and Eggo Brunch in a Jar Sippin’ Cream. SunnyD fruit drinks and Eggo waffles have long been marketed to children.

SunnyD is made by Harvest Hill Beverage, a company owned by private-equity firm Brynwood Partners. Harvest Hill has said that consumers who were already using SunnyD as a cocktail mixer requested a ready-to-drink alcoholic version. A spokesman for Harvest Hill declined to comment on the potential appeal of the drink to children.

The Eggo liqueur tastes like maple syrup, butter and bacon. A collaboration of Kellogg and Sugarlands Distilling, it is packaged in a glass jar with an image of a waffle.

Kellogg and the distiller created the drink “so parents can L’Eggo, relax, and enjoy that ‘treat yourself’ feeling brunch evokes,” Kellogg said. Parents are a longtime target audience for Eggo, the company said, and the liqueur is clearly labeled as alcohol and intended for adults 21 and older.

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