Last month, The Coca-Cola Co (NYSE:KO) unveiled a quarter of new flavors of its popular diet cola. It’s a clever even if not-entirely-creative move that is (if we’re being honest) more about the marketability of the new shaped, sized and colored can than about the soda itself.
Still, it was a poke at PepsiCo, Inc. (NASDAQ:PEP) in a race both brands are losing ground in. Even diet sodas are losing their luster with health-minded consumers, and as long-term owners of PEP stock know all too well, those health-minded consumers are finding alternatives made by neither beverage giant.
All the same, to the extent it will help, Pepsico is answering Coke’s new fruit-flavored diet colas as well responding to sparkling water powerhouse La Croix with a new line called Bubly. It’s a hybrid of sorts, melding the familiarity with once-loved sodas with the ever-growing preference for water. The new product lineup surfaces a year after Pepsi’s LIFEWTR brand hit store shelves, getting the company at least a little deeper into the increasingly important category.
Will this be the long-awaited rekindling PEP stock holders have been waiting on? Realistically speaking, no. It’s another encouraging sign, however, that if nothing else, Pepsico knows it can’t continue doing business as usual.
Pepsico Is Thinking Bigger
It remains to be seen just how much of a game-changer Bubly will be for Pepsico. If LIFEWTR and other product revamps are any indication though, owners of PEP stock can’t assume it will move the needle much. Lemon Lemon, Gatorade Frost and some new AMP Energy drink flavors didn’t help stop the bleeding; perhaps the bleeding is simply too profuse.
Still, the new line couldn’t have surfaced at a more opportune time.
The demise of soda and the rise of water isn’t a new phenomenon. But, it reached a tipping point in 2016. That’s when consumers (in the United States anyway) drank more bottled water than soda. The disparity likely widened in 2017.
That’s not to suggest anyone is simply going to cede this market to La Croix and/or Pepsico. Indeed, it’s already a crowded space. Coke has water, sparking and not, in its portfolio as well, and Nestle SA (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NSRGY) will soon unveil new sparkling water products. As Duane Stanford, executive editor of Beverage Digest, recently opined, “There is going to be a lot of competition in the space from private label. Every store brand will have its version of LaCroix.”
On the flipside, the rising tide is lifting all boats. Though 2017’s exact tally has yet to be reported, as of the latest tally, U.S. consumers spent $8.5 billion on 790 million gallons of sparkling water last year. That’s well up from 2016’s $6.1 billion spent on 574 million gallons of flavored carbonated water. Gary Hemphill, managing director of research at Beverage Marketing believes “The category really has the wind at its back right now,” adding “There is room for at least two key players, maybe three. The fact that LaCroix has been so successful doesn’t mean there can’t be room for another brand.”
In other words, there’s something here that could turn a struggling PEP stock around. The company will still need to play all of its water cards with near perfection, however, recognizing that it has to connect with potential buyers in a way that makes it clear Bubly isn’t just another take on the soda most have been shunning.
Looking Ahead for PEP Stock
PepsiCo will report last quarter’s results on Tuesday morning, before the market opens. As of the most recent look, analysts are collectively looking for a profit of $1.30 per share on sales of $19.37 billion. The company generated revenue of $19.52 billion in the same quarter a year earlier, turning into earnings of $1.33 per share of PEP stock. Those results would extend a long-standing streak of weakening revenue and inconsistent (not to mention tepid) profit growth largely thanks to the growing consumer preference for healthier beverages rather than sugary drinks and soda.
Still, against multiple headwinds that have crimped margins — and forced the company to cut costs in a relatively significant way — turning only a little less profit on a little less revenue is a relative success.
The earnings webcast, which begins at 7:45 am EST, should at least address the above … if not as part of the presentation’s agenda, than partially during the Q&A portion of the call. Pepsico has topped estimates in each of its past seven quarters.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.