Fizzy drink fans will have to wait until April to taste test Coca-Cola Life, the mid-calorie cola that The Coca-Cola Co and bottler Coca-Cola Amatil are relying on to reinvigorate soft drink sales.
Coca-Cola is confident Coke Life, the beverage giant’s first new cola variety in seven years, will restore sales and volume growth to its beverage portfolio and the entire carbonated soft drink category, which is under pressure as consumers shun sugary drinks in favour of healthier beverages.
“I think the whole trademark is going to grow behind it. It’s going to really make the category more buoyant,” said Coca-Cola South Pacific’s group marketing manager, Dianne Everett.
Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia, a plant based-sweetener 300 times sweeter than sugar. The drink has 35 per cent less sugar and 35 per cent fewer kilojoules than classic Coke.
First launched in South America last year, sales of Coke Life have fallen short of forecasts because stevia’s bitter aftertaste has turned off loyal Coke drinkers.
However, Coca-Cola South Pacific plans to use the Coke Life formula sold in Britain and the US rather than the formula sold in South America, which has a higher stevia content and 60 per cent fewer kilojoules than classic Coke.
Ms Everett said Coke Life would appeal to consumers seeking the taste of classic Coke but fewer calories.
“A long time has been spent perfecting and refining the taste,” she said. “I think consumers that are prepared to make a little bit of a trade off and are seeking balance as their most important driver are going to love what we’ve got to offer them.”
Coke Life is Coca-Cola’s first new cola product in Australia since the launch in 2006 of Coke Zero, one of its most successful product launches in more than 20 years. Coke Zero captured 13 per cent of the cola category and lifted Coca-Cola Amatil’s category share from 75 per cent to 77 per cent.
Coca-Cola believes Coke Life will have similar success and says the reception from supermarkets and route customers, who have been calling out for product innovation, has been enthusiastic. “Our customers know this is a big piece of news for Coca-Cola – the response has been commensurate with that,” Ms Everett said.
“It doesn’t replace anything else in the portfolio; it’s a wonderful complement to the three other products that sit in the trademark, being Coke classic, Diet Coke and Coke Zero,” she said.
However, analysts are sceptical, saying any jump in sales and volumes is likely to be short-lived.
“You get a sugar hit, but after that it’s back to negative trends,” said Morgan Stanley analyst Tom Kierath. “My expectation is that they do get a near-term bump, but it’s not long lasting and people will not permanently increase their cola consumption.”
The price of Coke Life will be in line with that of other Coca-Cola products, making it 50 per cent to 60 per cent more expensive than Pepsi’s mid-calorie stevia-based cola, Next.
Coke Life was unveiled on Wednesday – the day before Coca-Cola Amatil was due to announce the outcome of a strategic review – but will not be on sale until April, giving Coke time to market recent products including $2 250-millilitre cans.
“We’re not seeing Coke Life as a one-hit wonder,” Ms Everett said. “Whilst it’s … the biggest thing we’ve probably done in terms of product launches since the launch of Coke Zero, for us it’s one additional piece of innovation in a long and steady stream.”
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