PepsiCo bets that its new BBLz mixology concept will make consumers forget about soft drink’s sugar issues


Carbonated soft drink makers seem to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to sugar. Reformulating with no- or low-calorie sweeteners isn’t turning the tide. Smaller size packages may boost margins, but at the expense of volume. Apologising for sugar has not worked so far; maybe celebrating sugar (and indulgence) can produce a different result?

This is one take for PepsiCo’s radically new BBLz mixology soft drink concept. New at Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark amusement park, BBLz “zigs” when the rest of the market “zags” by celebrating indulgence instead of apologising for it. BBLz is less a new beverage product than an “elevated and immersive consumer beverage experience” with huge emphasis on fun that doubles down on sugar by adding candy to the mix.

BBLz (pronounced “bubbles”) starts with a clear plastic, rounded glass that looks more like a Christmas tree ornament than a drinking glass. On-site mixologists create the drink in front of the consumer, starting with a base of PepsiCo soft drinks like Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Mist Twist. Fun ingredients like popping candy, gummy candy, and Hershey candies like Reese’s Pieces or Twizzlers Pull ‘n’ Peel candies are then added to the drink which is topped with colorful foam for an artistic creation that is ideal for social media sharing.

PepsiCo floated the concept behind BBLz in 2015 when it debuted “F!ZZ” – an idea it proclaimed to be the future of carbonated soft drink mixology – at the two day Maker Faire event in 2015 in Queens. PepsiCo pitched the concept as a “360 degree immersive experience” featuring a “playful celebration of bubbles with unexpected ingredient combinations” to allow consumers to “deconstruct and reconstruct soda.”

F!ZZ seemed to go dark until November of 2016 when PepsiCo revived the concept (on paper, at least), applying for a patent for BBLz covering “restaurant services” like providing food or drink via a mobile truck or at amusement/theme parks. BBLz went public facing in April when Hersheypark began running teaser ads featuring the brand in the same signature glasses associated with the original F!ZZ concept.

Can mixology make consumers forget about the negatives of carbonated soft drinks like sugar content and calories? Probably not to any significant degree, but what mixology can do is capitalise on the innate curiosity people have toward experimenting with new flavors.

More than any other variable, curiosity motivates flavor experimentation. According to a Q1 2017 GlobalData survey, 44% of consumers globally said that curiosity motivates them to try new flavors or fragrances, more than double the response for the next most popular motivator – recommendations by friends and family (17% response).

The mixology concept behind BBLz has another benefit: it converts a product into a novel consumption experience with premium-pricing possibilities (despite the relatively low $6.99 retail price for a theme park for BBLz today). A growing body of psychological research says that consumers value experiences more than things. Satisfaction toward experiences also has a tendency to grow over time (think pleasant vacation memories) while the thrill of the next great thing (think quickly-forgotten birthday gifts) declines over time.

Headlines that suggest millennials are driving the prioritisation of experiences over “stuff” sell short the broad appeal of experiences across age groups. According to a Q1 2017 survey by GlobalData, 60% of global consumers say they find trying new experiences most exciting, compared to 40% preferring new products. This preference toward new experiences actually increases with age. The GlobalData survey found that 66% of age 65+ consumers globally prefer new experiences over 34% more than prefer new things.

PepsiCo is mum about where BBLz goes from here, but social media postings indicate global ambitions. BBLz has been spotted in the Tomorrowland section of Shanghai’s Disneyland Park where they drink is offered in flavors like Tomorrowland Twist which is a “fiery cinnamon-flavored drink infused with the possibilities of the future.” Disney’s approval and apparent involvement suggest broad potential buy-in from theme park operators globally.

At a minimum, BBLz could get consumers thinking about new drink experiences including beverages that take playful aim at meal occasions like breakfast or dessert. For dessert, there is Whip Scream Sundae, a “fizzy spin on a sundae” that uses Pepsi Vanilla and Cherry as a base.  Fizzy Flapjack is another one of seven BBLz flavors offered at Hersheypark and breaks new ground as a breakfast-themed drink.

The odds are good that few have had a “brunch in a cup” anything like this one. Fizzy Flapjack starts with Mist Twist apple and orange flavors and blends syrup foam, Hershey’s milk chocolate, pancake syrup, mini pancakes, chocolate chips, and bacon in a drink that screams indulgence. No word on the sugar content for this flavor, but you can bet that it is probably off the charts.

Who says that soft drink innovation has to put health and wellness first? Rolling BBLz out at amusement parks is a stroke of genius by linking the indulgent drink concept with amusement park fun and thrill-seeking behavior.