Crook & Marker to Add Sugar-Free, Hard Soda Line

Crook & Marker will launch four new, sugar-free hard sodas in two test markets this month, with plans to take the line national early next year.

The new soda line shares the same nutritional facts and alcohol by volume (ABV) as the brand’s “spiked and sparkling” alcoholic beverage line: 80 calories, 4% ABV, zero grams of sugar and fewer than one gram of net carbohydrates, according to a press release. Other similarities include a proprietary blend of ingredients, including quinoa, millet, amaranth and cassava root.

Recall that Ben Weiss, who founded Bai Antioxidant Beverages and sold the brand in 2016 to Keurig Dr. Pepper for $1.7 billion, launched Crook & Marker nationally this past spring.

Speaking to Brewbound, Crook & Marker president Ken Kurtz said these product specifications will set the line apart from other hard sodas that exploded onto the market in 2015 but quickly fizzled, such as Pabst Brewing’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer.

“The issue is there’s nothing wrong with soda,” Kurtz said. “The reason people walked away from soda wasn’t because of the flavor; they actually love the flavor. It had to do with the amount of sugar associated with soda, as well as the other negatives such as artificial ingredients.

“That’s the concept here,” he continued. “How do we bring a better way to drink to the alcoholic beverage space through a soda concept that delivers outrageously delicious flavors that are traditional, things like cola, lemon lime, root beer, ginger ale, but do it in a very responsible way?”

Although Crook & Marker’s spiked and sparkling beverage line was aimed at attracting active and healthy lifestyle consumers with a fondness for hard seltzers, the company chose soda as its next product launch due to the beverage’s wide consumer appeal.

“Rather than bringing in another spiked seltzer or another type of product that already exists, we think bringing out a broad base of beverages that bring a different type of consumer into the space allows for incremental growth,” he said.

Crook & Marker’s soda line will launch in four flavors — cola, lemon lime, root beer and ginger ale — and 4-packs of 11.5-ounce cans will be priced at around $8.99.

“The breadth of having four flavors allows you to have some presence and create some impulse with the consumer,” Kurtz said.

The products will initially be available in off-premise retailers in Wisconsin and Montana. Kurtz said those states were chosen due to the strength of the company’s wholesaler relationships, as well as strong hard seltzer sales in those markets. He explained that launching the line with four different packages also secures shelf space.

Crook & Marker does not plan to release a mix pack at this time, although Kurtz wouldn’t rule out a variety pack in the future. He explained that consumers are already knowledgeable of traditional soda flavors, so they don’t need a variety pack to introduce them to different flavors.

“When consumers are exposed to a new category, variety works really well because they need to experiment with the different flavors that they’re not very familiar with,” he said. “When it comes to soda, though, consumers kind of know soda. They know what they like.”

Crook & Marker plans to add additional markets in the fourth quarter and launch national distribution in early 2020.

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