Coca-Cola is going further out on the stevia limb just weeks after the CEO of its arch-rival said that the extract of a South American bush "unfortunately does not work well with colas."
What does Coke know that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi doesn't? She cast doubts on the long-term effectiveness of stevia as a sugar substitute in colas with her remark to analysts, even though Pepsi's use of stevia in the Australian version of its mid-calorie Next brand comprised the biggest commitment to stevia so far by either giant.
Coke's debut of stevia in a cola has been carefully planned and seems to have a few things going for it. First, it's via a new drink called Coca-Cola Life that will debut initially only in Argentina, an obesity-conscious, westernized market that also is familiar with stevia because of its long-time use in some form or another on the continent. The company said it will explore rollout of Life in other markets as well. Life will have about half the calories of regular Coke.
The company already uses stevia in some other soft drinks, such as US versions of Sprite and Fanta called Select that have just 70 calories versus the regular 140 and 160, respectively, in regular versions.
Coca-Cola's partner in Life is Cargill, the Minneapolis-based grain and ingredients giant that has spent a pretty penny developing and refining Truvia, its branded stevia, working on aftertaste issues that are common with stevia products. Life will carry Truvia co-branding similar to how its CoroWise sterols have been co-branded on "heart-healthy" orange juice made by Coke's Minute Maid unit.
Interestingly, too, Coke's launch of Life has featured little fanfare, especially compared with the 2012 US introduction of Pepsi Next which, according to BeverageDaily.com, "saw glitzly launch parties in cities like New York anld celebs pouting for paparazzi with cans."
At about the same time, Coca-Cola also indicated that it is seeking regulatory approval for use of yet another new version of stevia, this one developed with PureCircle in a joint venture that was announced last fall. Supplier Pure Circle said in September, according to BeverageDaily.com, that the deal with Coke would help establish the company's high-purity stevia as a "mass volume, mass mainstream ingredient."
Despite Nooyi's doubts, it appears that the stevia-based transformation of the carbonated-drinks market—much of it, still, by her own company—will continue, albeit perhaps slowly. There's only so much that any new sweetener can do to reverse the basic slide of traditional soft drinks in the US market and around the world.