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New Snapple Taste-Test: No HFCS, Fewer Calories. But the Taste?

What’s an iced tea got to do to get respect these days? That’s the question that tormented Snapple executives as they saw their product get squeezed in the bodega and pizza shop refrigerator cases by an assortment of enhanced waters, juices, and fancier teas (President Obama, for example, is a fan of barely-sweetened Whole Foods-hatched Honest Tea; the White House fridge is stocked with Green Dragon and Black Forest Berry.)

What’s an iced tea got to do to get respect these days? That’s the question that tormented Snapple executives as they saw their product get squeezed in the bodega and pizza shop refrigerator cases by an assortment of enhanced waters, juices, and fancier teas (President Obama, for example, is a fan of barely-sweetened Whole Foods-hatched Honest Tea; the White House fridge is stocked with Green Dragon and Black Forest Berry.)

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new Snapple

Now, for the first time in its 37 year history, the brand will roll out a new look, and new formula which, Snapple execs promise, has been thoroughly tested with the average Joes who form its target market. “We talked to Lennie in Manhattan, Hymie in Brooklyn, and Arnie in the Bronx,” says Snapple Marketing VP Bryan Mazur. (Childhood friends Leonard Marsh, Hyman Golden and Arnold Greenburg started the company in Greenwich Village in 1972.)

While it’s distributed nationally, 40% of the brand’s sales are in New York. The new formula will dispense with high fructose corn syrup — the sweetening agent that has health-conscious moms all in a tizzy — and will replace it with real sugar. Nutritionally, the two are identical, but HFCS has gotten a bad rap from health food fanatics. Snapple’s new formula, however, will deliver 40 fewer calories per bottle, simply because the flavor’s been punched up, Mazur says.

And, in an effort to capitalize on the current mania for green tea, the brand’s new label with be adorned with a pair of tea leaves, and the message will be called out in a big box: “Made from Green & Black Tea Leaves.” It’s a mantra that the Snapple folks are hitting hard as they hit the streets: “Healthy green and tasty black!” Mazur told me, at least five times.

The new bottle will also be slimmer — sized to fit cup holders, which weren’t an issue back in 1972 — and the label will be a little less hokey. Gone is the drawing of the sun and the curvy typeface, replaced by a slimmer san serif font, with quirky little drawings of bumblebees and trees.

To see how the new compared to the old we conducted a side-by-side taste test with parched Fast Company staffers, some of whom already had a hard core two-bottles-a-day Snapple habit. The results:

old snapple

Old Snapple:

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“It’s fruiter,” said one staffer, after an initial slug. Others thought sweetness was the overwhelming take-away: “There’s not as much flavor, but sweetness,” said one.  “It’s like Nestea,” chimed in another. 

Some liked the balance between tea and lemon. “It’s more lemony, more natural.”  Like with a vintage wine, one non-tea drinker, noted the brew’s mouth-feel: “It has a tongue-tingle thing going on.”

New Snapple:

“This one is more fragrant,” said our resident addict, sniffing the bouquet from a tiny paper cup. “Definitely the high fructose corn syrup one,” another said with confidence — despite being totally wrong.

But tasters weren’t impressed with the lemon after-taste. “This one tastes like it has lemon out of a bottle….kind of a chemical taste.” Another called the flavor “lemonesque.”

“One’s not a vast improvement over the other,” most concluded. Maybe if you’re making “the best stuff on earth,” there’s not upside potential.

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Responses to the new label, however, were much less ambiguous:

“It’s not a disaster!” they all agreed, mindful of the recent Tropicana debacle.

“Those little graphics look like henna ttatoos,” our Web editor said approvingly, a curious association until we remembered he lives in the East Village. “More Putumayo.” “Very earthy.”

“More high end,” most agreed. “More like farm country.” “It says ‘all natural,'” several noted. “The ‘S’ (which is stamped into the bottle itself) is a big improvement.”

The old label, said one long-time New Yorker, is more like old-fashioned New York, a comment which prompted a swing down memory lane of Snapple advertising on the Howard Stern show.

To be fair, I may have inadvertently biased the results, putting a star on one set of cups — the old Snapple ones — a faux pas which would have instantly gotten me drummed out of the Marketing Research Association.

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Overall, taste testers agreed there wasn’t a significant difference in the two teas. But all were cheered by the fewer calories, and most responded happily to the idea of eliminating HFCS.

Snapple will roll out its biggest ad campaign ever, tagged at somewhere in the eight figure range, (Ad Age reported the Snapple account, won by Deutsch, was worth $25M), beginning on May 4 and running through the summer. And Snapple facts freaks needn’t worry. The brand’s weird little factoids, like: “Long Island is the largest island in the continental U.S.” and “The average woman consumes 6 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime,” will remain.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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