HOUSTON -- Retailers may want to brace themselves for the juice wars, courtesy of the folks who brought you the cola wars not too long ago.
vision and print advertising campaign that Coca-Cola Foods hopes will convince people to choose Minute Maid orange juice over its rival, Tropicana.
In most cases, retailers stand to reap the benefits of escalated rivalry between the two manufacturers, although those with successful private-label juices may not be so fortunate.
The television commercials for Minute Maid, which debuted last month, posed the question "Got a Minute?" and feature genuine consumers who, in a blind taste test, chose Minute Maid not-from-concentrate Premium Choice orange juice over Tropicana's Pure Premium.
Does this new aggressive campaigning herald a more bloody battle in the near future? Analyst Tom Pirko, president of BevMark Consulting in New York, seems to think so.
"I think Minute Maid has said, 'No more playing around, we're going to return to a position of supremacy,' " Pirko told SN.
"You're involved in a marketplace in which one company is an absolute predator -- one taste of blood and they're on the track.
"Tropicana still narrowly holds the lead in not-from-concentrate juice. Coca-Cola has set its sights on that spot: this year is the year!"
Pirko thought that Coca-Cola's campaign was strategically timed. "The competition is going into unrelated business. Seagram-Dole is
at a very unusual place in history right now -- if you notice when you read anything about Seagram-Dole, they aren't talking about orange juice. So it's the perfect time; the competition has to decide whether they're going to put money into battling you, or continue on these other ventures.
"Juice companies are always in the middle of some kind of guerrilla tactics, but a full-scale war doesn't usually happen."
However, in a "war" situation, retailers would come out on top, Pirko said. "They're the ultimate beneficiaries. The more juice companies want space, the more they're willing to pay for it."
Taste tests will provide the battleground on which the juice war is fought, according to Pirko.
"This battle is going to be waged not on ingredients or value-added, but on taste," Pirko said.
"Price and taste will be allied, with less emphasis on calcium or vitamin C or antioxidants added. Taste will be tied in to promotions and advertising."
It may be more difficult to reach juice drinkers this way than it has been, for example, with cola drinkers. "Orange juice has always been viewed by the American public as a commodity item.
"That problem still exists to some extent. There's not a lot of perceived difference in juice."
Private label and growers would be the victims in a war between Tropicana and Minute Maid, Pirko said. "If you have Tropicana and Minute Maid entering a war, it drives prices down."
Denise Biencourt, dairy buyer for Waremart in Boise, Idaho, agreed that a juice war would be disastrous for the Waremart/ Supervalu private label, Flavorite. "It would hurt our private label, definitely. We've already discontinued one of our juices because of price competition. Of course you always think of private label as being the cheaper product and when it isn't, [it can't compete]."
Brian Dubbink, dairy buyer-merchandiser for Spartan Stores in Grand Rapids, Mich., was more confident about the wholesaler's private label.
"Our private label is very strong. The only impact there would be with a juice war would be if Minute Maid and Tropicana started low-balling every day."
Spartan's retail customers have "roughly equal" facings for Minute Maid and Tropicana, he said. "The stores can choose to do whatever they want but we have it set for 10 facings of Minute Maid black box and six for the 96 ounce; for Tropicana it's nine for Season's Best and six for the 96 ounce."
Tropicana has had the upper hand at Waremart stores, Biencourt said. "I think Coca-Cola has been kind of lackadaisical, and now they're having to sit up and take notice. Tropicana has been pretty aggressive, at least here -- I think they are taking market share away from Minute Maid." Dave Throckmorton, director of marketing for Minute Maid here, discussed Coca-Cola's intent. "Clearly, we're after a larger share of not-from-concentrate market," he told SN. "We have major leadership in Boston and Florida, but we're not No. 1, so we're not happy with our position.
"One way to grow is to spend money; you've got to get aggressive. You have to challenge orange juice drinkers. So in addition to executing on-air TV, radio and billboard ads, we're in the supermarkets and at local events, stopping consumers in roving vans. You've got to get in consumers' faces."
Throckmorton insisted that the campaign is not directed at Tropicana per se. "We're hopeful that the effort will result in category growth for orange juice. People are not drinking it as often as we think they should.
"We hope to grow our business and if it comes from Tropicana, so be it."
Throckmorton also denied any strategic maneuvering concerning the timing of the campaign. "It had nothing to do with [the Seagram-Dole acquisition]. We had an internal need to grow our business and we launched forward."
He said the campaign will run for the rest of the year and then will be evaluated to determine how much longer it lasts and whether to roll it out in any other regions. "We're spending over $100 million behind the Minute Maid trademark throughout the year," he said, but would not supply further details.
Mark Gutsche, Tropicana's vice president of communications in Bradenton, Fla., was dismissive about the competition. "Their market share in the never-from-concentrate category is so infinitesimal that it's amazing they could find two people to say they prefer Minute Maid," he said.
"Tropicana is by far the consumer brand, and we continue to have the product consumers want. "They really are desperate; it's kind of funny," he continued. "We say, bring 'em on. We've taken on everyone in the not-from-concentrate category and we'll take them on too."