As it grapples with consumers’ declining thirst for sugary drinks, Coca-Cola has decided to change the name, recipe and look of one of its most successful sodas, Coke Zero.
The new version will be called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, with the added word intended to underline its lack of an ingredient spurned by many. It’s also supposed to taste a bit more like regular Coke.
It comes out in August — and could be tempting fate.
TELL US: What’s your take on the Coke Zero change? Comment below.
In one of its most infamous missteps, the Atlanta beverage giant ran into a buzzsaw of angry customers in the 1980s when it replaced traditional Coca-Cola with “New Coke,” a version the company said most people favored in taste tests. Coke eventually brought back the old version.
With its remake of Coke Zero, Coke is fiddling again with a brand that has become immensely popular with health- and weight-conscious customers since its launch in 2005. Unlike Diet Coke, which has been in decline for years, Coke Zero also has strong appeal among men.
But sales have slowed lately, prompting the new marketing and formula tweak.
Coke Zero Sugar is already out in more than 25 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. The company said the changes have revved up the re-launched drink’s sales in those countries, partly by reducing confusion over what the “Zero” signified.
Coke says it has tested the changes in the U.S.
“Obviously any change has some risk,” said Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, who is just three months into the job. But he added that the new version has “enough visual cues” to avoid confusing customers.
The new cans and bottles will mostly mimic Coca-Cola’s traditional red packaging, replacing Coke Zero’s mostly black color scheme.
Coca-Cola said it plans to make its biggest investment in marketing the new version since it launched the Coke Zero brand a dozen years ago.
“I think Coke has to be very careful” to stay ahead of customer reaction on social media, said Beverage Digest Executive Editor Duane Stanford.
“They want to make this abundantly clear that this is a no calorie product with no sugar,” said Stanford. But they really need to make clear that there’s basically little or no change in the ingredients or flavor, he added.
On Coke’s main facebook page Wednesday, a couple hundred commenters had weighed in by late afternoon. Most were not impressed.
“I felt like I was kicked in the stomach when reading the news this morning and hoped it was #fakenews but no, Coca-Cola is literally changing something that people love for NO APPARENT REASON!,” one wrote.
Another skeptic tweeted: “Because that’s just what 2017 needed — another New Coke.”
“We’ve got a lot of experimenting going on out there,” said Quincey. Even before he officially stepped in as CEO on May 1, he announced plans to cut 1,200 jobs, mostly at Coke’s Atlanta headquarters, to help fund new marketing and growth efforts.
The company said it is in the process of launching more than 500 new products around the globe this year and introducing existing products in new markets.
The new Coke Zero Sugar is part of that strategy. Coca-Cola said the new version has been growing by double-digit percentages in the more than two dozen countries, including Britain and Mexico, where it has replaced Coke Zero.
Coca-Cola launched its original version of the zero-calorie drink in 2005, and it now sells in 160 countries.
Coca-Cola also has been shedding most of its remaining bottling operations by selling them to new owners. While the company expects the strategy to make it more profitable in the long run, it has played havoc with its top and bottom lines for now.
The company said revenue declined 16 percent in the second-quarter compared to a year ago, while profit fell 60 percent, to $1.4 billion.
MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.
AJC Business reporter Russell Grantham keeps you updated on the latest news about major companies, CEOs and public utilities in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:
- Study: Atlanta and Georgia pensions get mixed grades
- Georgians’ auto premiums are through the roof, consumer researchers say
- How many lifetimes would you have to work to earn top Georgia CEOs’ pay?
Never miss a minute of what's happening in local business news. Subscribe to myAJC.com.
In other Business news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.