New Food Products

Elite FX Celsius Cola

Elite FX combines spiced-up flavors with vitamins and a ‘proprietary thermogenic blend’ to produce Celsius, a carbonated soft drink it claims can burn calories.

By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors

The pursuit of weight loss is nothing new. One solution, diet soft drinks, has been available since the 1960s. Anytime you can remove 150 or so calories from something consumed perhaps several times a day should help.

There has been lots of activity in the category lately with the arrival of new sweeteners, such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium, two well-funded attempts at mid-calorie colas and one novel product (7-Up Plus) that adds calcium, vitamin C and real fruit juice.

At the same time, consumers appear more willing than ever to try alternative remedies for numerous conditions. The concept of thermogenic ingredients to burn fat and calories, while not widely accepted and certainly not proven, nevertheless has been heard of by an increasing number of consumers. And it certainly sounds attractive.

Into that scenario, and against a backdrop of sagging sales of carbonated soft drinks, enter Celsius soft drinks from Elite FX, Boynton Beach, Fla. The three-flavor line, with 5-10 calories each, delivers not only a new slant on some traditional flavors but also the promise of a drink that will burn off fat and calories. It may be the ultimate diet soft drink. "Are you ready for ‘net-negative' calories?" the company asks.

A thermogenic blend of nutrients, caffeine and botanicals works naturally with the body to accelerate metabolism. The products juxtapose a cool taste against the idea of burning calories. This certainly will make the consumer look at these products … and probably look again. The questions are if consumers can get comfortable with the chemistry and if these products can break through all the beverage clutter.

For this review, our consumer testers sampled Celsius cola flavor.

Understanding the marketplace

The carbonated beverage industry is not what it used to be. The overall category dropped 3 percent in 2004, with Coca-Cola losing 5.6 percent, Pepsi-Cola losing 3.3 percent and Cadbury Schweppes dropping 1 percent. Still, it's a $66 billion category.

Flavors and calorie levels provided news for the companies but not an increase in volume. This leaves the big three searching for ways to re-engage the consumer. Coke introduced C2 and Pepsi tried Pepsi Edge to test mid-calorie approaches; both apparently have failed. Splenda sucralose and acesulfame potassium (Ace K) entered the scene as new sweeteners. Cadbury Schweppes introduced 7-Up Plus, a berry-flavored carbonated beverage sweetened with Splenda and Ace K and fortified with calcium, vitamin C and real fruit juice.

Nevertheless, these flavor extensions and calorie level variations are not producing any growth in the carbonated drink market. The consumer may be looking for something different.
All three varieties of Celsius soda contain a "thermogenic blend" that increases metabolism in order to burn calories. They have 5-10 calories of their own.


Celsius is aimed at not only diet-conscious consumers but also those considering energy drinks. First and foremost, it was developed for consumers who want to burn fat. Along the way, it may make their lives easier (one less sit-up, 10 fewer minutes in the gym, etc.). So Celsius is focused on heat and cool at the same time. This brand reflects the paradoxes we all live with today.

Creating a new brand is not easy. Design and performance are keys to making a brand work. Celsius has the design; the performance is where the questions come. Consumers know if they reduce the number of calories they will lose weight … but that's the hard way. Any product offering an alternative definitely will get another look.

Our Drink It! process is an integrated, 30-category, conjoint study that generates a database that can be used to understand the experience of beverages. For colas, the top ideas for which consumers would trade off are: brand, classic cola taste, varieties of cola texture and one calorie.

There is a sizable segment of consumers for whom very low, but not necessarily zero, calories is a great idea. Like other consumers, the idea of texture and brand are important to them, but single-digit calories are the key driver. Celsius Cola plays to this segment. The ultra-low-calorie group also is interested in flavors added to cola, vitamins and minerals and the idea of a drink cooling you down.

Consumers choose colas based on taste, beverage temperature and brand. Cola beverages are refreshing because they are consumed icy cold. They are consumed across all parts of the day, but the largest consumption occurs at lunch, afternoon and dinner. Colas are part of the brown beverage group (coffee, tea and cola), a category that has traditionally been a key reference point in defining beverages.

Trends: Flavored carbonated beverages and especially tropical flavors such as lime and lemon are popular. Flavors like ginger are often described as providing a sense of pleasure and escape from the ordinary. Ethnic cuisines from South America, Central America and Asia – as well as immigrants from those regions -- are having a great impact across the food industry.

The more these spiced and tropical flavors are experienced, the more familiar they become. They lend themselves well to carbonated beverages that use sucralose or aspartame sweeteners. They tend to be inherently sweet and may smooth out some of the aftertastes of the sweeteners. Tropical flavors tend to provide a fuller taste and a perception of more mouthfeel for many.

The experience

Celsius is available in a 12-oz., twist-off crown cap bottle in three flavors: cola, ginger ale and lemon-lime. The sweetener used is sucralose; in the cola it yields 5 calories. At the time of our writing, you can only buy these sodas in certain convenience stores in Florida for $1.99 a bottle or online at, but Elite FX has plans to grow.

The shrink-sleeve graphics are impressive (one evaluator called the bottle gorgeous). They evoke the juxtaposition of hot and cold together with orange to red at the neck of the bottle, a fire spiral moving toward purple and blue at the bottom. The beverage is identified as an energy supplement. Bursts on the package tell us to "Enjoy the great taste of burning calories" and "zero carbs." There is very clear labeling that the drink contains no high fructose corn syrup, which has been under fire lately.

The active ingredients are taurine, guarana extract, green tea leaf extract, caffeine, glucaronolactone and ginger extract – this is the proprietary thermogenic blend. In addition to that blend, the product has vitamins and some minerals. It supplies 100 percent of vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, biotin, pantothenic acid and some calcium and chromium.

The color is golden brown. The cola flavor we tasted was not traditional cola but had a citrusy quality and a mystery taste that we later identified as ginger. The cola note is somewhat medicinal and brown caramel notes are fairly muted.

The level of carbonation is very low (perhaps to fit better with kids and young adults who prefer less carbonation) but helps to make this seem more familiar than it is. Whether it is the sucralose or the low carbonation, the beverage seems extremely sweet. The best taste component is the mystery ginger note that is mildly perceptible.

The overall impression of Celsius cola is that of a lightly flavored cola-ginger beverage. The first experience you get when you open the bottle is citrus and ginger aromas. There is the familiarity of cola, but the comfort of ginger (as in ale) and citrus. This is not your traditional cola. However, there are no strong off flavors (just a very high sweetness) that might be expected with the vitamin blend.

Does the product deliver?

Older, traditional consumers are not likely to "get" Celsius. But it's not really for them. The target for this product is hip people – whether they are going to use this at the gym, in a beverage (perhaps balancing alcohol calories) or as part of a slimming program (go to spin class, drink one, go to pilates, drink one – maybe you get a tighter muscle or two).

The idea of burning calories while drinking is somewhat unbelievable – maybe frightening for some. But the familiarity of the flavors creates a level of comfort.

Clearly, however, this is not a replacement for diet cola.

The brand promises to be different. This beverage hears your needs and responds to them. We didn't try to see if we could burn calories and pounds, so we don't know if this will deliver on that promise or not. If indeed the "thermogenic blend "does increase metabolism by 12 percent over a 3-hour period," then "by replacing a regular soft drink with a bottle of Celsius every day for one year, even with no change in exercise habits, a person could theoretically lose up to 17 pounds," says company promotional materials.

The lightness of the flavor and the variety does give this product a lot of range throughout the day. The caffeine is a benefit for mid-morning and afternoon pick-me-ups, those times when you might want to eat a snack to get you going. Could this replace the diet beverage and the snack? Wow – now you have energy and no calories.

How to make the idea bigger

The makers should tell us how to use this product. Right now you have to figure out how to make it work. Or maybe that is the point. We don't know. We are just consumers with a few extra pounds to shed.

One of the big hurdles for this beverage is brand familiarity. Snapple did a great job of becoming a small brand that everyone knew. Red Bull did the same. Celsius needs to become more familiar, more of a trusted friend. It is different, and that introduces the fear factor. During our evaluation, people we asked to taste the product were unsure of even wanting to try it when they considered the concept of a thermogenic blend.

Rating: This product is a good try. It is sweet and leverages those familiar flavors we all know. The concept and the brand are unknown and so are a little scary.

Market Potential: Maybe. The product may connect with the targeted user group, but it also will scare off some consumers, as the knowledge base required to feel familiar with the idea of thermogenic beverages is not commonplace.

Hollis Ashman ( is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley ( is president of the Understanding and Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm. See

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