Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Coca Cola Life: Green joins Red, Silver, Black and Gold

Working with sustainability focussed colleague Stephanos we knocked out the following piece for the, an academic funded journalism accelerator service that aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry through enabling journalism editing support.

My angle was to counter the "6 teaspoons of sugar" activists and put across some recognition of (government & health lobby catalysed) industry 'steps in the right direction'.  When has a teaspoon been a real scientific measure, apart from making WI jam ?  Of course, with the application of some academic rigour, that encourages consideration of a range of stakeholder perspectives and some ethical compass, the article is more balanced and less biting that I had initially envisaged.  I am watching with interest as the twitterati re-interpret the piece in their co-created amplification.

The liquid isn't really green !

I taste tested the Stevia sweetened, new formulation with interest, having noted very limited above-the-line advertising and just a point-of-sale push campaign at my local BP garage.  I think it tasted ok, although I've read reports of an after taste.  I put some green food colouring in the empty to create a bit of fun, it has attracted quite a few reactions in my office and so really this post is just the chance for me to add some of my own images and additional commentary.    

It is interesting as we track the hit-o-meter (using twitter promotion the site has serious media traction in USA, Australia and UK), we've reached over 1,000 hits in under two days and went live with a low profile, picture less post the day after Scotland voted to stay in the Union.  Well, strictly they voted not to leave in a rather convoluted democratic manoeuvre.  Fingers crossed we might get 3-4k hits and nibbles from the media ?

Check out the full article here LINK  Go on, you know you want to ?!!

The creative commons copyright agreement allows re-use of the material - so I have summarised some of my key thinking below (it benefits greatly from Stephanos' masterful editing skills) 

Coca Cola has begun carefully rolling out its green-labelled “Life” brand, filling its iconic hour-glass bottles with a new fizzy drink which has nearly a third fewer calories than Coke Original. It is a useful win for anti-sugar campaigners but the strategy brings all kinds of risks for the Atlanta-based soft drinks giant.

There is a rising tide against sugar consumption and its links to obesity and ill-health. Mexico – one of the leading soft drinks markets, but a country where 9% of the population suffer from type-2 diabetes – has already implemented a sugar tax.

Euromonitor’s Howard Telford noted that western European and North American markets are increasingly mistrustful of sweeteners, and this is coupled with a health agenda that is trying to limit calorific consumption. Market researchers Mintel UK support this assessment, with a quarter of respondents in a survey saying they now consume fewer carbonated drinks than six months ago. Although not measuring actual behaviour, this does suggest that health campaigns such as Change4Life and Action on Sugar are influencing consumer demand.

According to Telford: “The introduction of Coca Cola Life is a slick, high profile example of the company publicly seeking to address its role in public health through innovations.” He’s right: this is a clever move on Coke’s part that should be applauded, though also a modest one that is not without problems.

Coke’s executives have clearly learnt the lessons of the New Coke debacle in the 1980s. Back then, market research suggested the younger Pepsi generation would prefer a sweeter taste, and the new product was duly born. Alas, the researchers had bungled the study and unintentionally created a future marketing case study of how not to launch a new brand.

What taste-test research actually tends to indicate is that consumers struggle to differentiate between variations of brown fizz, regardless of sugar content. Instead, it is product branding that influences.

The company has adopted a cautious, incremental and geographic launch strategy. Life’s global launch was in Chile and Argentina, which boasts one of the highest per capita soft drink consumption levels in the world. Substantial markets such as the UK, France, Mexico and US are following.

There is a background to this too. Western beverage firms are experiencing significant global drops in market share as consumers increasingly choose branded water and Chinese beverage brands grow stronger. Nonetheless, the Coca Cola portfolio leads with a 21% share of the market (far ahead of second-placed PepsiCo, which has 10% of volume). Coca Cola is valued at US$79 billion and was ranked for many years as the top global brand by Interbrand (deposed in 2013 by Apple and Google).

One risk for Coke is that the lower-sugar Life sub-brand may be an extension too far. Phil Caroll, a drinks sector analyst at investment firm Shore Capital, has suggested that Life sits in a no-man’s-land between core propositions that already serve customers well. However, substantial regional differences suggest that there is indeed life in Life. The slow take-up of Zero in the UK compared to a rapid market penetration in the more dynamic market of Australia is a useful case in point. In short, there appears to be some potential for the Life brand to do well. And even in the UK, success in reducing salt intake – 15% lower salt consumption over a decade as consumer tastes adjusted with time – suggests that firms can change their products to the benefit of society while bringing their customers with them; a key commercial imperative.