PepsiCo poised to revive 1990s flop Crystal Pepsi

More than a decade after it flopped with consumers, PepsiCo (PEP) is poised to bring back Crystal Pepsi.

The return of the caffeine-free beverage, which lacks the coloring of the beverage maker's best-known brands such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew, is thanks to a campaign by popular YouTube entertainer Kevin Strahle.

"We take customer feedback very seriously and we do think Crystal Pepsi fans will be happy with what we have planned," Angela Tucciarone, a spokeswoman for the Purchase, New York-based company emailed.

The second-largest soda company was otherwise mum on the details regarding Crystal Pepsi's comeback, spurred by an online petition drive organized by Strahle, also known as L. A. Beast, that drew more than 34,000 signatures. He retweeted a message from Pepsi to his more than 24,000 followers on Twitter that promised good news about Crystal Pepsi.

PepsiCo is "considering at least a limited reintroduction of Crystal Pepsi and it doesn't surprise me," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of the trade publication Beverage Digest. There is "an interest from some consumers in brands from the past and why shouldn't companies be responsive to their consumers and bring back a few products even on a limited basis that consumers want to buy."

Last year, rival Coca-Cola (KO) responded to a similar online campaign by three passionate fans in bringing back Surge, a highly caffeinated soda that disappeared from store shelves in 2002.

First introduced in 1992 amid consumer concerns about the health effects of coloring in soda, Crystal Pepsi was taken off the market the following year. While demand was initially strong, it quickly fizzled as consumers didn't take to the beverage's citrus taste.

"The actual concept was great and I am sure it scored well back then but I think the actual flavor profile was just totally messed up somehow," said Sandie Glass, an innovation strategist and consultant with Innovation ROI. "Sometimes that happens, especially with food and beverage."

Dorie Clark, an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, echoed Sicher's sentiments, saying she believes PepsiCo's strategy is clever and shows the company is being responsive to the demands of some of its most passionate customers at a reasonable cost.

"People who were teenagers in the 1990s are reaching positions of power in the corporate world and in the media," she said. "They have a lot of cultural influence and they want to leverage it."

Reviving pieces of the past is not unique to soda makers, with McDonald's (MCD) last month bringing back the Hamburglar, who menaced Ronald McDonald in a string of 1970s commercials, but this time as a hipster dad.

Soda makers have been trying for years to reverse the decade-long decline in soda consumption. Last year, the industry vowed that it would cut the amount of calories in their products by 20 percent over the next decade. PepsiCo is developing a line of "craft" sodas and Coca-Cola is working with Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) to develop a machine that would let consumers make their own cold beverages.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to institute warning labels on ads for sugary drinks, along with prohibitions of their sale on city property. Under city guidelines, the supervisors need to vote on the measure at a second meeting next week, and assuming the city's mayor approves it, the law would take effect in 30 days.

The California Beverage Association claims San Francisco officials are unfairly singling out the drinks as other fruit and milk-based beverages such as Starbucks Frappuccinos have higher calories but are exempt.

  • Jonathan Berr On Twitter»

    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.