It is one of the biggest drink launches of the past decade. For Red Bull, single-handedly creating the energy drink market in the UK is not enough.
The brand, which developed a cult following among adrenaline junkies thanks to its links with extreme sports, is embarking on a white-knuckle ride of its own by entering into the highly competitive cola category, where it will go up against Coke and Pepsi.
Red Bull Cola is the brand's attempt to make its mark in the £1.25bn UK take-home cola category. It is positioned as the first completely natural cola and is the first move by the drinks company out of its energy heartland. But is the Red Bull brand strong enough to make it in cola?
Taking on the might of Coke and Pepsi has historically been a fruitless exercise. Virgin Cola made the most audacious attempt in 1994 but despite encouraging initial sales it has failed to have any real impact. Other colas, such as Altu Black and Mecca Cola, the Muslim Coke, are less memorable.
Yet Red Bull is no ordinary contender. Unlike previous pretenders to Coke's throne, it already has strong brand equity and a loyal following. In just over a decade since its launch, Red Bull has grown to become the UK's sixth-biggest soft drinks brand with annual sales of £170m, up 23% on the previous year.
All this undoubtedly stacks up in the drink's favour. "The product proposition is really strong and will be a success with Red Bull's weight behind the launch," says Tesco soft drinks buyer Jane Potter.
"If you disregard the challenge of going up against Pepsi and Coke then it is a logical move into cola," adds Chris Molloy, head of insight at brand consultancy Distillery. "Red Bull is rooted in physical stamina and cola is about consumers needing a pick me up."
It might be a logical brand extension, but why does Red Bull want to enter a category so dominated by big brands? Its website says: 'Why a cola from Red Bull? Well, why not?', but sales director Andy Shaw, provides a more comprehensive answer. "We are trying to grow the largest category in soft drinks with a completely new product. Cola is in decline but we want to tap into the emerging market of healthier products. It is unusual to launch into a declining category but we are trying to rejuvenate it and add value."
Red Bull's healthier positioning means it will target a different consumer, says Shaw. The company claims it is the only cola on the market with no artificial colours and which also contains the Kola nut and the Coca leaf. Its 355ml can also sets it aside from its competitors. "It isn't really about us going head to head with Coke and Pepsi."
Taking the natural approach, however, could be the drink's stumbling block, suggests Molloy. "The natural angle is somewhat puzzling," he says. "Red Bull consumption is shrouded in hedonism, it is about having fun or it is drunk as a consequence of having fun. It is not seen as natural. That's at odds with its natural stance in cola."
Potter also believes Red Bull risks confusing consumers. "They will think it is a cola-flavoured energy drink," she says. "The job for Red Bull will be to get the product message across."
Positioning in-store will help, says Shaw. "Where it sits is crucial. It will be sited in the cola aisles to help people understand it's a cola, not an energy drink."
Making a significant dent in cola will be tough. But Red Bull's attempt will at least provide a definite answer on whether it can be done. Because if Red Bull can't do it, probably no one can. n