Coke to Debut Dasani Essence

Coca-Cola, which has a history of playing catch up in burgeoning beverage categories, is getting into the unsweetened, flavored water category early with the launch of Dasani Essence.

Debuting in February, Dasani Essence will have no sugar, calories or preservatives. Its three flavors — lime, strawberry kiwi and black cherry — will each carry a hint of all-natural fruit flavor.

Unsweetened flavored waters experienced 400 percent growth during the past two years, per Nielsen (for the 12 months ending in November). “The category is still growing very quickly so it makes sense to get into it,” said Coke rep Ray Crockett.

Bill Sipper, president of Cascadia Consulting, said, “They are jumping in early. The category is still under a $100 million. Coke, if done right with merchandising and whatnot, could [succeed] because the category is still evolving.”

PepsiCo offers Aquafina FlavorSplash, which also is no-calorie and all-natural drink, however it contains preservatives. There are also a number of smaller players on the scene, including Hint.

Dasani Essence joins Dasani Flavors and Dasani Plus enhanced water beverages. This could be a negative, said Sipper. “It’s a little confusing with all of the sub-brands.”

Another barrier is the lack of attention the flagship has gotten for the past two years. Coke invested $2 million or less on U.S. media spending (which does not include online spending) each of the past two years, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, compared to $20 million in 2006. Dasani also will be replaced by sister brand Glacéau, makers of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, as a sponsor during the NCAA championship games.

Coke will support the Dasani Essence launch with an integrated media campaign, sampling and in-store merchandising. Lambesis, San Francisco, is the agency.