It’s Senior Prom and the dulcet tones of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” are fueling the last slow dance of the night. You have one thing on your mind. You can see its moist glisten in your mind. Its perfect curves and sweet taste have your heart racing. Get your minds out of the gutter, kids. I’m talking about the bottles of Zima sitting in the cooler in your hotel room. Yes, the clear, lemon-lime flavored “Zomething Different” of the 1990’s that took America by storm and fueled your underage drinking by making that “awful taste of beer” much more palatable. But, what happened? Where is Zima 20 years later?
In the early nineties, there was very odd phenomenon that swept through the country: clear beverages. There was Crystal Pepsi and Tab Clear, both colorless sodas. Saturday Night Live even parodied the fad with Crystal Gravy. So in 1994, the Coors Brewing Company introduced Zima, the slavic word for “winter”, as an alternative to beer. Coors spent over $38 million in advertising rolling out the product, to incredible results. Coors estimates that over 70% of drinkers at the time tried Zima. To the dismay of Coors, most of those who did try it, did not return for seconds. The product did however, find a niche market that its makers were not looking to target: young women.
This was the beginning of the end for Zima, who had now become more of a punchline than a premium drink choice. Zima had gained the reputation as a “girlie drink” and even David Letterman was constantly using Zima as a Top Ten joke. Coors made a futile effort to market toward men with Zima Gold, a caramel colored malt-beverage said to have a bourbon-ish taste and a pumped up alcohol content. Sales were dismal and the product was pulled after three months. But, against all odds, this was not the end of Zima.
As a matter of fact, Zima went through three more transformations. First, it was touted as a “thirst-quencher” and made to taste more like Sprite. Then, in 2004, trying to appeal the extreme sports craze, it was renamed Zima XXX and hit the market with a higher alcohol content and different flavors like Hard Green Apple and Hard Orange. Finally, in 2007, Zima decided to target the market they originally, yet non-intentionally, attracted in the first place. With a reduced calorie count and alcohol content, and flavors like pineapple-citrus, women in their 20’s were the intended drinkers. This effort was not a total failure. Actually, it was a Utah labeling law and a California tax hike on malt beverages that were the ultimate demise of Zima in 2008.
We may not be able to pop open the cap and enjoy the crystal-clear effervescence of a Zima, but at least we have the memories. Hey, at least we have Smirnoff Ice, right? Zima, you are gone but not forgotten.
R.I.P. Zima 1994-2008