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Slice is back: once-popular soft drink will be rebooted as low-calorie drink sweetened with fruit juice

Greg Trotter, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- Slice, a once-popular soft drink from the 1990s, faded into obscurity for years before being relegated to the trademark trash heap -- discontinued and, for all practical purposes, dead.

And that's exactly where Mark Thomann, a Chicago entrepreneur with a knack for reclaiming old brands, hunts for treasure.

"People remember the brand, but they don't always remember the specifics," Thomann said. "It's sort of like clay that you can mold how you want."

Dormitus Brands and Spiral Sun Ventures -- two separate entities run by Thomann -- are partnering to relaunch Slice later this year after acquiring the brand's trademark rights, which were formerly owned by PepsiCo. The new Slice will be a lower-sugar, lower-calorie beverage sweetened only with real -- possibly organic -- fruit juice, Thomann said. The product's still being developed, but the plan is to distribute it nationally through regional retailers in six months or so.

The amount of carbonated soft drinks sold in the U.S. has declined for more than a decade, as consumers have increasingly eschewed sugary drinks for healthier alternatives. These are boom times for sparkling water, such as LaCroix, but Thomann and his associates believe there's a market for something just a bit sweeter.

"If we were just relaunching it the way it was before, I don't think it would be successful. ... We believe this will be a $100 million brand in the next five years," Thomann said.

 

In the U.S., the total volume of carbonated soft drinks sold has decreased from 51.4 billion liters in 2012 to 47.4 billion liters in 2017 -- a decline of about 7.8 percent, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Meanwhile, sales of alternative drinks -- everything from bottled tea to flavored water -- continue to grow, while still representing a smaller part of the beverage industry by volume, according to Linda Montag, senior vice president at Moody's Investors Service. But despite this shift in consumer tastes, large corporations like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which also own healthier brands, are poised to capitalize most because of their considerable marketing and distribution muscle, Montag said.

As one recent example, PepsiCo is launching a new flavored sparkling water called Bubly by the end of February. Coca-Cola owns pop alternatives like Honest Tea.

Facing such competition in a crowded marketplace, the successful revamp of Slice is not guaranteed.

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