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Americans fail to get a taste for Rivella

From December the amber nectar will not be quenching American thirst (Photopress/Rivella)

Rivella, the quintessentially Swiss soft drink, is being pulled from the United States' market at the end of the year after a disappointing performance.

History seems to be repeating itself as it's not the first time that English-speaking taste buds have failed to be tickled by the beverage, made with milk serum.

Canned versions of the Swiss speciality first appeared on the shelves of the Publix supermarket chain in Florida in spring 2004 as part of a year-long test phase.

It was marketed as a niche product, available in the healthfood section.

Spokeswoman Monika Christener told swissinfo that the Rothrist-based company was disappointed by the volume of sales. While not unsubstantial, they "did not fulfil expectations".

She added that the company had underestimated how long it would take to establish a new brand in the US and was unwilling to invest more time and money into breaking into the market.

Unfamiliar

The lack of brand recognition was also a major stumbling block.

"It's clear that the fact that Rivella was completely unknown in the US was the main problem," Christener said.

"Swiss people grow up with Rivella; they are almost as familiar with it as breast milk."

This degree of familiarity was naturally lacking in the Sunshine State's population.

The only people who knew and loved the product were Swiss based in the US, experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Until Rivella was rolled out in Publix stores, they could get their fix by post from a distributor based in Miami, after placing an order over the internet.

But how did Rivella fare against the competition from the likes of Pepsi and Coca-Cola? Christener stresses that the giant beverages were never rivals.

"Rivella is sold alongside healthfood products and is at least four times more expensive [than Pepsi or Coke]," she said.

Déjà vu?

The decision to pull out of the US makes the second time in five years that Rivella has tried and failed to break into an English-speaking market.

In 1999 the Swiss concern launched the soft drink on the British market with great fanfare, reputedly with a multimillion-pound campaign.

But just over a year later, the product disappeared quietly from the shelves of British supermarkets.

Christener, though, said the foray into Britain was completely different to that into the US. For one, the launch was larger on British turf than on American soil.

"In the US we started out by saying that we would not invest much and we would restrict the launch to one supermarket chain in one area," she explained.

Rivella seems not to travel well – one reason could be the nature of the drink. A mention of the fact that it contains milk serum is enough to put some Anglo-Saxons off.

That the product needs to be carefully explained to non-connoisseurs is something the company is well aware of.

"You have to explain what's special about Rivella, that it's a milk-derived product. It is difficult to describe how it tastes; there's no Rivella fruit or tree," Christener said.

Future

As for the future, the company is now concentrating its efforts on Switzerland's neighbours.

"Expanding in Switzerland would be difficult because the market is saturated," said the Rivella spokeswoman.

The drink, says the company, is very popular in the Netherlands, which generates nearly 90 per cent of Rivella's foreign sales. This amounts to 15 million litres annually.

The expansion strategy is counting on the fact that people who live close to Switzerland have heard of the product.

"It would be easier to establish Rivella in these areas where there is already a certain degree of familiarity with the brand, unlike in England or the US," Christener remarked.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

In brief

The family-owned Rivella company is based in Rothrist. It has 270 employees.

It was founded in 1952 in premises on Lake Zurich.

It produces other drinks, such as the Michel line of juices.

It is the number two in the Swiss soft-drink market, providing 70 million litres annually.

end of infobox

Key facts

Rivella is a soft drink made from natural ingredients, one of which is milk serum.
Its carbon dioxide content is low and the golden-coloured beverage is not as sweet as average soft drinks.
It is available in the following varieties: Red (regular), Blue (diet) and Green (green tea).
Rivella Blue was the first diet soft drink in Europe, hitting the Dutch market in 1959.

end of infobox


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