Options in beverages and beverage packages are plentiful.

Consider the packaging materials, shapes, flavors and benefits offered by today’s non-alcoholic beverages. (Four materials) X (10 shapes) X (20+ flavors) X (20+ benefits) = at least 16,000 options in convenience stores alone. Shoppers can choose to drink to and/or for their health. They can imbibe power, fun, stress relief, cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, fusion, energy, mental alertness, pro-biotic health and, of course, thirst-quenching flavor. Shoppers can get an adrenalin rush from SoBe or a spicy hot way to drink veggies from V8. Vitamin Water offers Fierce (for hurricanes?) and Rain (for dry spells?). Energy drinks offer to make them feel like a Tiger, a Red Bull, a Monster, a GOAT, an Amp or a Rock Star, depending on their mood.

Flavor and color choices are as mind-boggling as the bottle shapes and benefits. Pom bottles are short and chubby. Red Bull cans are tall and slender. The proliferation of package designs has kept pace with the proliferation of benefits. A plastic bottle is not just a plastic bottle any more. It is smooth or swirled, straight or slope-sided, quart or liter measures, round or square, transparent or fully dressed. There is colorful artistry from Arizona Tea, whimsy from Odwalla and shapely elegance from Tropicana’s new Pure (are older varieties impure?).

Counting varieties of teas, juices, smoothies, coolers and slushies is a new way to go to sleep.

Thanks to growing attention to recycling, and conversion into actual products like tote bags, single-serve bottles are being environmentally accepted as responsible parts of today’s portable but still eco-concerned lifestyle. One of our shoppers writes: “A year ago, I was trying to avoid plastic and buy things in glass. Now I’m trying to use more plastic bottles and jars because they are light, save transportation costs, and are finding their way into new products.”

Another has a different view: “Cans are usually 100% recyclable, but I don’t like to drink directly out of a can so I use a straw. So far, straws are not recyclable, but I frequently reuse my straw. Bottles are usually recyclable, but their caps are not. Boxes usually go into the trash. So, in my opinion, cans are probably the most “green”, followed closely by bottles. Boxes come in last place.” (So much for hard-to-find Fizzies drink tablets, and the new, lighter-to-ship wine boxes that some consumers are buying to be green as well as thrifty.)

The fact that long-booming sales of beverages have started to slip at convenience stores is being attributed to sticker shock for gas, which keeps some drivers from going into the store to spend even more. Ballooning variety may have become another barrier, passing the point at which consumers can make choices that satisfy them in an acceptable amount of time. Choosing the combo that addresses the needs of the moment may have become just too much trouble.  F&BP