Life is dynamic. Opinions and attitudes evolve. Things are liked, then disliked. Policies and procedures are amended. Technology and innovation change the way we work and play. We all know these as trends. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to learn what is behind the proverbial curtain at various brands and see how they respond to the multitude of changes with new products and initiatives. My latest exploration is that of Dr Pepper Snapple Group where I had the opportunity to hear about how they address trends as well as their efforts to encourage active play.
During a webinar last week, a handful of other bloggers and I were able to interact with several leaders from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, hear about initiatives, product development and more. Brand transparency is a wonderful thing and I’m glad that we’re seeing this change in corporate culture. We were able to ask questions of the presenters and I believe only one question went unanswered. The Dr Pepper Snapple presenters were Allison Methvin – Director, Innovation, Vicki Draughn – Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Claudia Riedt, PH.D – Sr. Manager, Nutrition and Regulatory, and Chris Barnes – Director, Corporate Communications.
They started by providing us with some basic statistics about Dr Pepper Snapple Group. They sell more than 50 brands of carbonated soft drinks, teas, juices, mixers and other premium beverages including the Dr Pepper and Snapple lines and various ancillary beverages. IBC, Crush, Canada Dry and Mott’s are among the other well-known products under their umbrella.
Their goals for 2015 are very simple: Calories in vs Calories Out. As a consumer, I always thought food and beverage brands utilized their resources to modify formulas and create products based on trends but that’s as much as I considered. Dr Pepper Snapple isn’t simply trying to adjust their beverages to address the “Calories In” side of the equation but they also support initiatives to support and encourage the “Calories Out” aspect. In addition to creating new flavors and launching new lines, their philanthropic efforts include work with non-profit organization that encourage fitness and active lifestyles.
Our behind-the-scenes digital tour began with some details about their product landscape. Allison Methvin said they have a lot of new initiatives. Consumers have a variety of preferences regarding sweeteners and calories. She then explained that they have four primary product lines to address consumer interests: (1) Their regular line which focuses primarily on taste. (2) The Diet line for those who want the flavor but don’t want the calories. (3) The “TEN” line was designed for people who have an aversion to the “diet” category but still have a concern for calories. Finally, the most exciting one (4) “Naturally Sweetened”, currently still in testing, that incorporates a blend of real sugar and stevia resulting in a beverage with only 60 calories per 12 oz. serving. In addition to the Naturally Sweetened versions of Dr Pepper, 7UP and Canada Dry, they’re also discussing naturally sweetened waters. They are also offering new flavors and package varieties in Schweppes, Canada Dry Sparkling Seltzer waters and Snapple beverages.
Their Research and Development team includes scientists, engineers and specialists and is spread across their four locations. It takes a lot of testing and many rounds of tasting by consumers and DPS experts to arrive at the final product. Some products on the shelf may have existed in over 40 variations before the winning flavor was found.
During the webinar, I inquired as to how long it takes to launch a new product. The answer surprised me. Some changes are easy, Dr. Claudia Riedt explained. As an example, changing a flavor such as making Vanilla Dr Pepper, takes about a year. The most challenging part of this type of addition is getting the packaging changed. For more difficult projects, it takes about two years. The team at Dr Pepper Snapple Group monitors current trends but they prefer to be ahead of the curve. They already have all their ideas tested for 2016 and are already working on 2017 and 2018 trends. No, those aren’t typos. 2016 is done and they’re working on 2017 and 2018.
One of the other participants inquired about aspartame and the team assured her that it has been proven safe in hundreds of studies. However, the Naturally Sweetened line I mentioned previously came about in response to consumer concerns for artificial sweeteners. Any questions regarding the ingredients can be found on their product fact page.
While Dr. Riedt and Ms. Methvin shared with us the “Calories In” side of the equation, Vicki Draughn was on hand to discuss how DPS feels about “Calories Out”. Since the 1970s, kids have lost 12 hours of free time per week and the obesity rate has tripled in children ages 6-11. Two-thirds of kids get less than an hour of play each day and kids ages 8-18 spend an average of 7½ hours per day on media. Dr Pepper Snapple Group established relationships with companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, Dollar General and more to address this. They launched Let’s Play in 2011 with a $15 million partnership to build or improve 2,000 playgrounds with non-profit KaBOOM! over a three year period. KaBOOM! is a non-profit dedicated to encouraging active play and is known for their incredible playground initiatives. In 2014, they extended the partnership with an additional $10 million through 2016. This year, they committed $1 million to Good Sports, a non-profit promoting active play by providing athletic equipment to disadvantaged young people. By the end of 2016, Dr Pepper Snapple Group will have donated more than $26 million to Let’s Play. That’s a lot considering they just started the program three years ago.
In an effort to extend the Let’s Play initiative to get kids and families more active, DPS has a grant program. They’ve provided sporting equipment to teams as well as recess kits to school districts. They encouraged us to check out the grant page and see what is available. I specifically asked if there were only certain categories to submit and they said they don’t pigeonhole submissions. If you have an innovative request that helps a group or area, they will certainly consider it. Their primary focus is underserved areas and neighborhoods where there are limited playground options but they welcome submissions that address a variety of needs.
Remember I said there was ONE question that we never got an answer to? “What are the 23 flavors in the Dr Pepper formula?” Their response was very matter-of-fact. “Only two people in the world know the formula to Dr Pepper. We can’t tell you who they are, but they are not in this room! It’s very, very top secret – that is for sure.”
Hearing first hand how Dr Pepper Snapple Group addresses trends on both sides of the teeter totter was amazing. Now I’m ready for them to put together a road trip so I can see the plants in action!
What question would you ask Dr Pepper Snapple Group if you had the opportunity?