This week, Great Britain became the first market to sell Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, a reformulated, rebranded version of Coke Zero, that the company claims “tastes more like Coke and looks more like Coke.”
The company is backing the launch with a £10 million ($12.9 million) marketing campaign fronted by popstar Rita Ora. The product will be launching in other countries in western Europe from September through to October and other markets, such as the US, will follow after.
Speaking to Business Insider, Coca-Cola Great Britain marketing director Bobby Brittain, said there was “absolutely nothing” wrong with Coke Zero and that it had marked almost consistent sales growth in the country since it launched in 2006.
Campaign reported back in January that Coke Zero’s volume sales did increase in 2015 (from 83 million to 85 million) but, according to data from IRI, value sales declined 1% over the period — meaning the company sold more product, but it did so by putting it on promotion.
Brittain thinks Coke Zero Sugar will perform far better — partly because 50% of people don’t know Coke Zero doesn’t contain any sugar — and he believes the new brand will perfectly complement traditional, “red” Coke.
“We’re using Coke very much as the gold standard, the red standard. We’re paying Coke the ultimate compliment because we are saying it tastes more like Coke, looks more like Coke, and we’re always using Coke as the point of comparison,” Brittain said.
“Strategically, Coke and Coke Zero Sugar are ham and egg. It’s absolute dovetailing. I always use the analogy of tea: We either have it with our without sugar. It’s Coke, with or without sugar,” he added.
Diet Coke, Coke Life, and the UK’s new sugar tax
So where does Diet Coke fit into that strategy?
When Coke Zero launched in 2006, it was often referred to as “bloke Coke” — the no sugar option for boys. Diet Coke has a predominantly female audience — around 60% of drinkers, according to Brittain. Diet Coke Zero is being positioned as a “gender agnostic” brand, Brittain said.
He explained why the two can still sit in the portfolio together: “Diet Coke is a massive brand and was never intended to taste like Coke and doesn’t taste like Coke … Diet Coke here is incredibly successful because it is its own brand: 4.5 million people [in Great Britain] who drink it on a weekly basis have a relationship with that brand.”
However, even Diet Coke is undergoing a refresh. Brittain said the on-pack design and branding will change at the beginning of next year, to be more in-fitting with the “one brand” strategy the company began rolling out globally in 2015. The “disc” that appears on the Coke Zero Sugar can will also appear in some form on Diet Coke packs.
Coca-Cola says 43% of the products it sells in the UK are from its lower or no sugar range, but it wants this figure to increase to more than 50% by 2020.
Another product that fits into that portfolio is its new “green” Coke Life product, a lower-calorie version of Coca-Cola that uses Stevia as a sweetener. Back in January, Brittain admitted to Just-Drinks that Coke Life had experienced a “difficult second year” in 2015, with the trade title reporting that its sales in Great Britain had more than halved in November 2015 compared to November 2014.
Brittain told Business Insider: “We never intended it to be of the stature of Coke Zero Sugar or Diet Coke, it was always intended to meet a particular need that only so many people have to have fewer calories from a great-tasting Coke product with no artificial sweeteners.”
The Coke Zero Sugar launch comes one month after UK chancellor George Osborne announced a sugar soft drinks tax in a bid to address the nation’s obesity issue, which will force up the price of drinks containing at least 5g of sugar per 100ml. The levy is currently in the consultation phase, which will last a further three months.
Brittain said: “We continue to agree wholeheartedly with the government in terms of the issue and the fact that obesity is something we definitely need to tackle as individuals and as responsible organisations and businesses. But we totally disagree with the solution the government has come up with. It is wrong and we will be making that case over the next three months in terms of the consultation we have been invited to participate in.”
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