PepsiCo has announced the launch a new lemon lime soda called Starry, which will replace its former lemon lime product, Sierra Mist. This flashy new beverage is being marketed toward Gen Z with the online-inspired tagline, “Starry hits different.”
“We know there’s a strong demand for lemon lime flavored soda with the category continuing to accelerate,” PepisCo’s Chief Marketing Officer for North American Beverages Greg Lyons said in a press release. “With one product dominating the category, consumers deserve another option. STARRY is bright, optimistic, and rooted in culture and fun.”
What is that “one product dominating the category” that Lyons is referring to? Sprite. Starry represents PepisCo’s latest attempt to wrestle market share away from its dominant rival, the brand owned by Coca-Cola. That’s exactly what Sierra Mist was designed to do when PepsiCo debuted it in 1999, but it makes sense that the company is looking to pivot away from Sierra Mist in 2023. According to Beverage Digest, “At retail, Sierra Mist is all but out of the market with less than a 0.1 dollar share of carbonated soft drinks. Meanwhile, Sprite held a 6.9 dollar share of CSDs after growing +17% during the first half of .”
Taking on Sprite is no small task, and Starry is not PepsiCo’s first lemon-lime-flavored rodeo. The food and drink corporation has tried out a few different brands over the past few decades, but none have proven to have real staying power.
In the 24 years since its release, Sierra Mist has been mired in identity crisis, with confused branding that has rendered the soda largely unsuccessful. Originally sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, Sierra Mist switched to cane sugar in 2010 to appeal to a more health-conscious consumer. Taking things a step further, in 2014 Sierra Mist was produced with the sugar substitute Stevia.
More changes would follow. In 2016 Sierra Mist rebranded as “Mist Twist,” ditching cane sugar and stevia and reverting back to high fructose corn syrup. But Mist Twist wasn’t a hit, and the company dropped the moniker and returned to Sierra Mist by 2018. Whew! That is a lot of changes to a brand that just couldn’t figure out how to compete with its main rival.
And if you think that’s a headache, realize that Sierra Mist was not even PepsiCo’s first foray into the lemon lime beverage category. In fact, PepsiCo has long attempted to become a leader in this category, to little success—but it hasn’t stopped trying, because according to the Starry press release, “The demand for lemon lime soda has never been greater, with category growth accelerating since 2019.”
PepsiCo’s first attempt at lemon lime was Teem, which debuted in 1960 to compete with 7UP. Teem was discontinued in 1984 due to declining sales—although PepsiCo perhaps had the last laugh with 7UP. In 1986, the corporation acquired the brand’s international distributing rights.
Slice was the brand that PepsiCo debuted as a replacement for Teem, but Slice was similarly unable to to maintain longterm relevancy; it was discontinued in the early 2000s. Then came Storm, yet another attempt to reinvigorate PepsiCo’s presence in the lemon lime space. Storm had flashy packaging and contained caffeine (Sprite does not), yet even despite its high-profile Star Wars cross-promotion, it didn’t survive product testing.
Will Starry be the lemon lime soda that finally sticks? It will be interesting to see how Starry fares in competition with industry leader Sprite, especially among its target demographic of Gen Z consumers. According to a 2018 report on Gen Z spending habits, Food Dive wrote that “Gen Zers are consuming less sugar-laden soft drinks. However, this demographic may be interested in the low- and no-sugar offerings soda firms are introducing.” With a Zero Sugar option in its lineup, Starry seems strategically positioned to meet these consumers where they are.
As Gen Z matures and grows its purchasing power, it’s prudent for beverage manufacturers to have plenty to offer this market segment. But whether Starry represents a positive change in direction or just one more runner-up attempt to topple Sprite remains to be seen.