Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pepsi Special – the fat-blocking soda.

The black-and-gold Pepsi Special

On Tuesday, Pepsi launched a new variety of cola in Japan. Called ‘Pepsi Special’, the beverage company claims that the drink aids weight loss. It uses a substance called dextrin as a sugar substitute that company sources claim acts a fat-blocker, giving it the tagline ‘Fat-blocking soda’. How accurate the science behind Pepsi’s claims is a matter of debate; however, Pepsi Special has managed to obtain the official FOSHU sanction (‘for containing ingredients with health functions’) from the Japanese government, indicating that it has some physiological benefits.

Pepsi has always positioned itself as a brand for the youth. And today’s youth wants to stay thin. Weight loss is the latest buzz-word, given the growing rates of obesity across the world, and particularly in the United States. So the launch of this product is in line with global trends. But instead of launching the product in the United States which has one of the world’s largest obesity rates, Pepsi chose to launch it in Japan, a country which has some of the world’s lowest obesity rates.

Poster: the Japanese anti-obesity campaign
This perplexing decision can be explained to some extent by the fact that the Japanese people place a premium on staying thin. The emphasis on being thin is so ingrained that the Japanese government launched a massive anti-obesity campaign, with a goal to reduce national obesity rates by 15% by 2015. As a part of the effort, around five years ago, the Japanese government made it mandatory for all companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of all people between the ages of 40 and 74. The people qualifying as overweight (the thresholds were the same as those prescribed by the International Diabetes Federation) had to undergo dietary guidance programs. There were also financial penalties imposed on those companies and governments who did not meet specific thresholds for being overweight.

The government mandate clearly influenced the decision to launch Pepsi Special in the Japanese market. The advertisements show a man having to choose between a burger and a pizza. It is evident that Pepsi has positioned this product as a beverage that allows you to meet dietary goals without having to sacrifice food choices.

What do you think of Pepsi Special? Do you think that Pepsi got it right by introducing the beverage in Japan first? How different do you think the strategy will have to be for other countries such as the United States?


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