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"Naturally flavored with other natural flavors."
It’s experiential. It’s marketed as natural. And it has millennial written all over it. It's Pepsi’s new drink system, Drinkfinity.
Drinkfinity is a “system,” rather than a humble beverage, because in order to use it you must first buy the attractive, specially designed vessel equipped with a custom-fitted “piercer” for $20.
You also must buy the ingredient-containing pods, which have tasty-sounding names such as Berrymile Chill, Acai Charge and Coconut Water Watermelon Renew. Each pod has two chambers that separate the dry ingredients (such as chia seeds) from the wet ingredients (such as fruit juice concentrates). A pod four-pack retails for between $5.00 and $6.50. The pods are cute. They’re small and round, and fit almost perfectly into the palm of your hand—like Tide Pods, except teenagers haven't started eating them ... yet.
"Drinkfinity is a delicious new beverage option that allows today’s busy consumer the unique opportunity to personalize a drink based on their individual preferences and unique lifestyle needs,” said Hernan Marina, vice president of global business innovation for Drinkfinity, in a statement. “Better yet, Drinkfinity was made to do more than just hydrate—it was created with a simple vision to make a beverage that connects the dots between wellness and versatility, while trying to balance the needs of both people and the planet.”
To make a Drinkfinity beverage, you fill the design-y bottle with water. Choose a pod and peel back the label. Place it upside down on the “piercer” and press down hard.
The dry and wet chambers will break open and splash into the water bottle, swirling the concentrated raspberry juice, black carrot juice and blueberry juice (used instead of artificial colors) into an Instagram-worthy vortex of sweetened pink, purple or orange liquid. I’m not going to lie—it’s highly satisfying to hear the “pop” of the pod and watch the color infuse into the water. It’s visceral and experiential.
Then, just as the @drinkfinity Instagram feed depicts, after crafting your beverage you can continue about your busy millennial lifestyle that consists of doing yoga, posing with surfboards, pretending to meditate and staring longingly into your peach-hued Drinkfinity bottle.
In all seriousness, Drinkfinity is an innovative product in the beverage industry. In 2014, to much success, Pepsi launched Drinkfinity as a pilot product in Brazil. For the American version, the beverage Goliath dialed back the sugar content in each pod to better mesh with modern health trends (in the four flavors that I sampled, sugar ranged from seven grams to 17 grams per pod) and tweaked the flavor profiles.
Drinkfinity describes its product as a “water enhancer.” This is an accurate term, as the flavor is milder than expected—surprising given that Pepsi also owns Mountain Dew and Doritos, two brands renowned for shocking taste buds with salt, sugar and artificial flavors.
It’s clear Pepsi is attempting to appeal to a more natural food-inclined audience. While chia, coconut water and acai aren’t exactly at the bleeding edge of healthy food trends, such ingredients do have positive health associations. A few pod flavors even contain Panax ginseng root extract—a welcome addition, although I don't know how much ginseng is in each serving.
These blends provide better-for-you hydration for folks who have difficulty consuming plain water throughout the day. And if you usually choose soda for hydration, obviously Drinfinity is a step up.
But the more I learned about Drinkfinity, I started to identify some irksome transparency issues that may hinder the brand’s success in the highly competitive millennial-centered marketplace.
For example, curiously, real watermelon is nowhere to be found in the Coconut Water Watermelon Renew pod. Mango is not actually in the Mango Chia Flow pod. Pineapple is void from the Pineapple Coconut Water Renew. The legally accurate phrase “Naturally Flavored with Other Natural Flavors” is printed on the front of the package, but it’s hard to tell which ingredients it refers to. (Compare this to another flavored beverage, La Croix, which clearly prints "Berry Flavored Sparkling Water" or "Orange Flavored Sparkling Water" on the front of the package. There's no question about the ingredients inside.)
In the products that feature coconut water in the flavor title, Drinkfinity lists the amount of coconut water from concentrate in each serving on the front of the package: 6 percent. Below that is listed “Electrolytes.” This suggests that the electrolytes are derived from the coconut water. But when diluted into 20 ounces of water, 6 percent coconut water isn’t nearly enough to provide an efficacious amount of electrolytes. So the 170 mg of potassium and 340 mg of sodium per serving is derived from added monopotassium phosphate, sodium citrate and salt. Which is totally fine, really, except that I (and probably other consumers) would think the electrolytes are from the coconut water.
I was most excited to review Drinkfinity due to the sustainability benefits of not shipping bottles with heavy water throughout the United States, as most ready-to-drink beverage brands must. Drinkfinity provides ample information on its website touting this sustainability mission: The pod requires seven times fewer trucks needed for transportation and 65 percent less plastic compared to a 20-ounce RTD beverage.
These are exciting numbers for sustainable packaging experts such as Lara Dickinson, executive director of OSC2, a coalition of natural brands fighting to eliminate plastic packaging. “Shipping lighter weight and less liquid is a great start,” Dickinson says. “I am not sure this is the holy grail of sustainability, but it is a good direction to get interesting and (what appear to be) really healthy herbs and ingredients to customers shelf stable.”
Drinkfinity tells us that recycling the pods is easy and simple. At checkout, consumers can opt into a pod recycling program by receiving a special envelope that can fit up to 30 pods. Using this envelope, consumers can ship the pods to Loop Industries, an organization with “patented technology that breaks down the pods and reforms them into high purity, FDA-approved PET plastic that we envision will be used to create new pods in the future,” the website says. Loop Industries seems like an amazing enterprise, and it’s commendable that Drinkfinity partnered with it.
But you know what would make the pods even easier to recycle? Being able to drop them in the blue bin under my desk. But the pods are too small for most sorting equipment at municipal recycling centers. Instead, one must rinse out the pod, remember to take it home, store it in a special spot until enough are collected, put them in an envelope, drive to the post office and mail it.
“I am not a fan of recycling that requires consumer behavior shifts,” says Dickinson. “I have not seen numbers in terms of consumer recycling compliance on these closed-loop models that are compelling.”
Read: More pods than not will probably end up in the landfill.
Drinkfinity’s marketing materials say, “We understand your lifestyle.” But I’m not convinced they do. Drinkfinity misses the mark on being a truly functional beverage. It’s a chore to recycle.
I really wanted to love Drinkfinity. But if there’s one thing millennials don’t like, it’s when product innovation gets ahead of product integrity. Drinkfinity is a magic trick: dazzling, but lacking real substance.
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