PepsiCo’s Rockstar turns to hemp seed to help consumers unwind

Dive Brief:

  • PepsiCo is introducing Rockstar Unplugged, a functional beverage line that contains hemp seeds, the company announced at the National Association of Convenience Stores’ recent NACS show. The drink is described by the beverage and snack giant as a way to encourage relaxation and improve mood. 
  • The beverage is available in three flavors: Blueberry, Passion Fruit and Raspberry Cucumber. The company did not say when it will be available.
  • PepsiCo spent $3.85 billion in 2020 to acquire the struggling brand in an effort to accelerate the company’s push into functional beverages. It has spent much of the last year promoting the line and expanding its reach. 

Dive Insight:

For years, PepsiCo was known for its namesake cola and other iconic brands like Mtn Dew, Tropicana and Aquafina. But under the oversight of CEO Ramon Laguarta, the company has been moving aggressively into functional beverages as people look for more than hydration in the drinks they consume.

Global sales of functional food and beverages are forecasted to surge from $260 billion in 2020 to $530 billion in 2028, according to Statista.

To further tap into that market, PepsiCo in May launched Soulboost, an enhanced sparkling water beverage designed to support mental stamina and aid in relaxation. A few months earlier, it introduced a line of energy drinks called Mtn Dew Rise Energy targeted for morning consumers that contains caffeine, vitamins A and C, antioxidants, citicoline to boost mental clarity and zinc for immune support. And last year, PepsiCo debuted Driftwell for relaxation and decreasing stress.

After doling out nearly $4 billion to add Rockstar to its portfolio, PepsiCo has been expanding the brand’s reach, with plans to more than double its global footprint during the next three years to attract more consumers. The New York company also has filed a trademark application indicating that it could decide to sell alcoholic beverages under the Rockstar brand name eventually. The beverage also has received a new logo and changed packaging under PepsiCo’s ownership.

The Rockstar brand has shown signs of rebounding with PepsiCo after several years of declines or flat growth. During that slide, it ceded market share to energy drink giants like Red Bull, Monster and smaller lines such as Celsius.

A major part of its revival will come through launches like Rockstar Unplugged that cater to a different type of consumer looking to unwind rather than amp up, the typical effect of an energy drink. The product extensions, in short, give consumers yet another reason to turn to the brand depending on their need or preference at the time.

“It’s a dialed back, more mellow version of traditional Rockstar,” Chris Yemma, senior director of industry relations and commercial communications at PepsiCo, told Food Business News. “I think it’s a daypart experience. If you think about traditional Rockstar, it’s more late night, really amped up brand attributes with associations with actions sports and gaming. Unplugged is essentially a different mood.”

In April, PepsiCo introduced Rockstar Energy + Hemp in Germany, reportedly its first entrance into hemp. Laguarta said this spring the company hadn’t decided at the time whether to expand it elsewhere. However, the introduction of Rockstar Unplugged indicates PepsiCo learned enough from the launch in Germany to debut a hemp seed-infused offering in the U.S., potentially opening the door to more in the future.