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Sodas Itching For A Niche

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There was a time when if you were thirsty and wanted a soft drink to quench your thirst your choices were pretty straight- forward -- Coke or Pepsi. And for most people, even that decision was already made well in advance. It was a simpler world.

But then empty-suited marketing geeks figured out that they could more readily separate the consuming public from more of its cash by creating "targeted" or "niche" products and convincing an increasingly gullible mass market that they just had to have those special versions to make their lives worth living. So in addition to Coke and Pepsi, we began to see interleaved combinations of Coke and Pepsi, Diet/Regular (with multiple sub-options), Caffeine-free/Caffeinated, and now various flavors like cherry and vanilla. There are so many choices, it's a wonder you don't have to choose between wings/no wings and heavy flow/light days as well.

Flavored versions of Coke and Pepsi are in fact nothing new. People have been adding lemon to diet colas for years to mask the aftertaste. And back in the "good olde days," soda fountains would add a shot of flavored syrup to your soda as they mixed it up. Oldtimers tell of soda jerks even putting vanilla extract or even ammonia in fountain Cokes. The only difference is that nowadays you've got pop stars (so-to-speak) trying to convince you that it's an innovation which will make you just like them; shudder. It also sort of diverts the question from whether Britney's Got Milk to whether she's still got Cherry (Pepsi).

This week's Beggar's Banquet, then, takes a thirsty look at the ever-expanding world of niche-flavored soda products.

Vanilla Coke and Pepsi (Lemon) Twist: These are the two latest offerings from America's soft drink giants. They both are obviously targeting the same general niche (people who enjoy cleaning furniture), but have opted for separate sub-niches since Vanilla Coke tastes more like ice cold Old English Furniture Polish while Pepsi Twist tastes more like Lemon Pledge Furniture Wax.

Pros: They could have chosen Vanilla Ice as the spokesperson for Vanilla Coke but did not. Be grateful for the little things.

Cons: As if you need something worse than "It tastes like furniture cleaner."

Price: Same as regular/diet/caffeinated/caffeine free/Coke/Pepsi.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: The Coke vs. Pepsi wars turn into a cat fight as Christina Aguilera sides to pitch Coke against Britney Spears hawking Pepsi. Add a ring filled with lime Jell-o on the FOX TV network and that's a celebrity boxing match I'd pay to see.

Italia D'Oro Italian Soda: At first this seemed like a good idea. Why not go back to the old ways and have a soda where the seltzer and syrup are custom mixed together for you when you order? Of course once you Yuppify it, the only people who still think this is a good idea also think Sheriff Andy wore Dockers with Bass loafers and no socks while he was walking back from the fishin' hole with Opie.

Pros: Actually does taste pretty good.

Cons: When you order, they open a small bottle of seltzer, poor it into a plastic cup with ice, then add syrup. Let me repeat that: they open a bottle of seltzer. . .then charge you a designer price because they use a "name" syrup originally developed for flavoring their Yuppie coffee. I had a legitimate reason to pay for one of these and I still felt like an idiot.

Price: $1.75 for a plastic cup.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: An old-time soda fountain favorite is an egg cream which contains neither egg nor cream. It's chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer.

Blenheim 1903 Hot Ginger Ale: This one has nothing to do with marketing or a nostalgic harkening back to the corner soda fountain; this is one uniquely flavored beverage. Bottled in Hammer, South Carolina, Blenheim 1903 is a mix of spring water and ground ginger root. This is no Canada Dry here; when they say hot, they mean it. This is a soda that can only be sipped. Over ice, the cold mixed with the spicy sweet hotness is something to be savored slowly.

Pros: Mix some Blenheim Old #3 with some Jack Daniels over ice in a tall glass and you have a drink to enjoy while you sit on the rocker on the porch. Now, I realize that adding JD means this is no longer technically a soft drink but a) you don't have to add it to enjoy the Blenheim, b) it's not like the kids are going to be guzzling down some Blenheim after a game of basketball in the driveway anyway, and c) just try the damn drink. Also, note that spicy ginger ales used to be used by some small Southern town jails to sober up drunks.

Cons: Admittedly an acquired taste.

Price: A four-pack costs $4.59 at Mike's Beverage on Independence Blvd. It is also available in case quantities online at various beverage sites.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: The September 1994 issue of Wired magazine featured a cover shot of Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) wearing a Blenheim T-shirt. *

You can e-mail Gene Lazo at GeneYouIgnorantSlut@Yahoo.com

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