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Mountain Dew debuts Rise, an energy drink designed to replace your morning coffee

Sorry Starbucks. The Dew is coming.

Mountain Dew debuts Rise, an energy drink designed to replace your morning coffee
[Photo: PepsiCo]
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Sixty million Americans drink caffeine every morning. But according to PepsiCo, “only” 20 million consume energy drinks during this time. And to capture a larger piece of the a.m. market, the company is launching a new energy drink made specifically for mornings: Mtn Dew Rise.

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A year in development, Mtn Dew Rise is basically Mountain Dew that’s adulting. It’s available for $2.59 a can in the flavors Pomegranate Blue Burst, Orange Breeze, Strawberry Melon Spark, Tropical Sunrise, Berry Blitz, and Peach Mango Dawn. At 25 calories, it has 180 milligrams of caffeine—the same as two cups of coffee—and it’s loaded with supplements that are meant to be tempting in an era when we’re all concerned about our health. Zinc plus vitamins A and C promise to assist with immune response. Rise is also the first energy drink with citicoline, a supplement sometimes prescribed to people with Alzheimer’s disease that might help with mental clarity.

[Photo: PepsiCo]
“What do we want the brand to represent?” asks Leon Imas, VP of beverage design and experience at PepsiCo beverages North America. “Power, intuition, strength. A guardian and protector. But ultimately, a disruptor and leader, the person first to the waves, to the court, to the office. Someone who isn’t waiting, but will get up and Rise [rather than] hit the snooze.”

I take a swig of Mtn Dew Rise—Strawberry Melon Spark flavor—one afternoon as Imas explains this over Zoom. For a moment, the speech about rising to the challenges of life is actually a little inspiring. Then I remember that I’m wearing sweatpants to work and I worry that PepsiCo may have overestimated my ambition.

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Mtn Dew Rise is born of a simple market reality. Soda sales are down, but energy drinks have celebrated steady growth for more than a decade. Today, Red Bull and Monster Energy (the latter of which is owned by Coca-Cola) make up roughly 60% of the energy drink market. Meanwhile, PepsiCo owns Rockstar, distributes the rapidly growing VPX Bang, and has launched BOLT24, a Gatorade-branded energy drink; but the company has yet to invent anything to challenge the two dominant players in the market.

PepsiCo’s strategy with Mtn Dew Rise is not to beat Red Bull and Monster at their own game, but to expand the very definition of the energy drink.

[Photo: PepsiCo]
“Core consumers, they care about core energy drinks—the ones that don’t taste that good, have a lot of sugar and caffeine, and they’re used to it. And their bodies are used to it,” says Fabiola Torres, CMO and SVP of Energy at PepsiCo. “We respect that and protect that as part of our portfolio.”

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However, PepsiCo sees a window of opportunity in creating products that are less sugary and medicinal. Torres believes there’s an untapped market of energy drink enthusiasts who would be won over with a pleasant taste and health benefits. “The majority of [market] volume we see coming is flavor-forward, nutrient [dense]—something better for their body without sacrificing the flavor,” Torres says. “This is where the formula landed.”

So the strategy was tastier, not too sugary, and something that might be considered healthy. But why was first thing in the morning the occasion PepsiCo was most interested in?

To answer that, allow me to introduce you to the company’s Framework of Energy Management. Yes, that’s a real thing, developed by PepsiCo’s consumer insights division.

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“We identified from the moment you get up to until you chill out and wind down, there are six occasions when your body needs energy,” Torres says. “We’re very strategic about how we go after those occasions with the right product.”

I was every bit as curious as you are about those six occasions. To my delight, PepsiCo shared them. Here is the six-part Framework of Energy:

1. get started
2. keep going
3. charge up
4. tune in
5. elevate the night
6. chill out

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The biggest untapped moment for energy drinks is the “get started” coffee hour, during which time PepsiCo claims millennials and Gen Zers have increasingly been reaching for a sweet energy drink instead of a bitter cup of coffee. And the branding, which was completed by PepsiCo’s in-house team, was focused on capturing this moment.

[Image: PepsiCo]
The name “Rise” is clearly meant to evoke getting up and at ’em, which is part of PepsiCo’s treatment of Rise as more of a lifestyle brand than a mere soda launch. PepsiCo even lured LeBron James away from Coca-Cola to serve as the drink’s official spokesperson. Meanwhile, the visual identity is meant to be eye-popping, but also polished.

“There are some brands that are much more of a caricature of what an energy drink has to be,” Imas says. “I think 20 years on, the energy drink consumer has evolved. Maybe they’ve grown up a bit!”

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[Image: PepsiCo]
Rise’s logo is an abstracted lion, which confidently stares at the path ahead instead of growling with anger. The animal is drawn in fractals (aka “shards,” which are part of the Mountain Dew brand) that combine to give the lion a distinct 3D quality. Placed on the can, the lion looks almost like a faceted jewel.

[Image: PepsiCo]
“The colors we’re picking are vibrant and have a luminosity to them, with a certain visual look on the can,” Imas says, alluding to the challenge of getting the right chemical finish on the product—a colorful, matte finish that both looks and feels expensive. “We wanted it to be a design object.”

Looks are fine. But I know what you’re thinking: So just how did Mtn Dew Rise taste for breakfast, Mark?

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[Photo: PepsiCo]
Dear reader, I will not lie to you. I did not do the writerly thing and sacrifice my morning decorum and do the Dew before I penned this article. I drank coffee, because my Peter Pan syndrome manifests in almost every part of my life other than my breakfast caffeination of choice.

And in one more step of disclosure: Look, my wife heroically pulled herself out of bed this morning specifically to get coffee started. Now, I want you to picture her standing at the counter, diligently weighing the precise ratio of water and beans to make pour-over coffee while a single shaft of sunlight striking the counter gives the entire scene a romantic glow. And then imagine me, traipsing in after scoring an extra 15 minutes of sleep, bumping her a bit as I open the fridge only to crack open a tallboy. (I opted not to do this.)

I am, however, sipping an Orange Breeze right now, as I write this story, in a late-morning brunch-ish period that I’m going to call “close enough to count.” (Even though, technically, I’m definitely in the “keep going” stage of PepsiCo’s Energy Management Framework.)

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[Photo: PepsiCo]
The front of the sip tastes just like an orange Tic Tac. The rest of the flavor itself is almost impossible to pin down. Much like Mountain Dew Baha Blast or Code Red, I can’t say exactly what Rise tastes like. Both the Orange Breeze and Strawberry Melon flavors blend together into something vaguely fruity, which eventually gives way to what I swear is a familiar Mountain Dew bite at the end. (Although PepsiCo insists that there is no secret Mountain Dew flavor in there, so I must be hallucinating from all the citric acid and aspartame.)

In any case, Rise is certainly not bitter or metallic, as many energy drinks are. It tastes more akin to diet soda, albeit loaded with supplements and in a taller can. No, that’s not something I’d drink for breakfast. But don’t let that stop you.

As for the other, most important aspect: the effects of 180 milligrams of caffeine? They won’t disappoint. I can attest, as my consciousness rockets past the exit velocity of daylight saving time, Rise works. I can fly now and everything.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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