V8 Loses Ground in Long Quest to Make Us Drink Our Vegetables

Eating vegetables is challenging enough for most Americans, and the thought of drinking them invariably proves even harder to swallow. So it’s a small miracle that the salty vegetable juice blend V8 has survived for 80 years.

After growing into a multimillion-dollar business for owner Campbell Soup, however, the tomato cocktail now faces tough times as Americans drink less juice overall while switching to fancier, fresher alternatives. From August to October, Campbell reported this week, sales of V8 and its tomato juice in the U.S. sagged 8 percent from the year before. In the preceding 12 months sales fell 4 percent, to $742 million. On an earnings call this week, Campbell Chief Executive Denise Morrison cited “category weakness in shelf-stable juices and competition from the proliferation of specialty beverages and packaged fresh juices” in diagnosing what ails the venerable V8.

And the relevancy challenge has been real for some time. As the brand’s core consumers are baby boomers, the drink has needed to evolve over the decades to find new consumers. In 1997, for instance, the company launched fruity-flavored V8 Splash without any tomatoes. Sales of the new take on V8 slowed in 2000 before picking up again, and V8 Splash is now a $200 million brand “targeted to moms as an everyday drink for their children,” said Mark Alexander, president of Campbell North America, during an analyst meeting this summer. Following seven years of growth, however, V8 Splash sales fell in the three months that ended in October.

In 2006, meanwhile, Campbell launched V-Fusion, a fruit and vegetable blend marketed to women. With the subsequent rise of energy drinks, the company introduced a caffeinated V-Fusion in 2011. And last year it added a sparkling rendition. V-Fusion is now a $270 million brand, but sales have been declining for more than a year.

Despite these problems, Campbell spokeswoman Carla Burigatto says the company is dedicated to the V8 brand. Campbell generally is trying to reinvigorate its portfolio and plans to launch more than 200 new products—including soups and Pepperidge Farm cookies—by next July.

For V8, this means yet more extensions. V-Fusion has a new Refreshers fruit-and-veggie line that is lighter and has a lower percentage of juice. V8 hasn’t given up on tomato juice, either: A new variety called V8 Harvest, developed with Campbell subsidiary Bolthouse Farms, will compete with other premium fresh juices in the refrigerator section. And there’s a new V8 Bloody Mary mix because, well, a spoonful of vodka helps any veggie drink go down.

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