Coca-Cola Brings Lower-Cal Green Soda to UK, Share a Coke to US

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Coca-Cola’s global efforts to preserve its sales—and the essential nature of its brand and products—is beginning a crucial new test in the UK as the company launches both its new reduced-sugar Coca-Cola Life beverage and introduces a new anti-obesity campaign there simultaneously.

With 36 percent fewer calories and 37 percent less sugar than real cola, Coca-Cola Life will hit UK shelves in September, having passed its marketing launch in Argentina and Chile in 2013. Its upcoming launch in the UK will mark Life’s arrival in Europe (and the first new Coke product there since the launch of Coke Zero in 2006); no plans have been announced to roll it out in the US yet.

One reason Coke presumably started with Life in South America is that the drink is sweetened partially with stevia, a natural plant-derived substance that is native to the continent. PepsiCo has pooh-poohed the possibilities that global consumers will embrace stevia in colas because of aftertaste concerns, while still experimenting with the sweetener.[more]

But for Coke Life, it’s full speed ahead. “It complements our existing brands and is well positioned to meet changing lifestyle trends, providing people with a great-tasting, lower-calorie cola sweetened from natural sources,” James Quincey, president of Coca-Cola Europe, said in a press release.

Life also is aimed at corporate compliance with UK’s controversial Responsibility Deal that aims to improve public health and has charged the company to reduce the average calories per liter in its range of sparkling drinks by 5 percent by the end of this year, according to The Guardian. Among other moves, Coke also has reformulated Sprite in the UK, launched smaller bottle sizes across its portfolio, and promoted anti-obesity campaigns

Other brands in the UK have been scrambling to comply. The Cadbury confectionary brand owned by Mondelez International, for example, has indicated it will be capping calories in its chocolate bars.

Coca-Cola also just began an anti-obesity program, dubbed Coca-Cola Zero ParkLives, which offers thousands of free fitness sessions and coaching for families across 70 parks in the UK. Coca-Cola said the aim of the project was to encourage young people who wouldn’t normally be physically active to become so.

Not surprisingly, Coca-Cola’s gambits in the UK have drawn charges of hypocrisy because it is battling calories while at the same time continuing to sell sugary drinks that many blame for a huge share of the western world’s losing war against obesity. Coke has played both ends of the issue in other markets including the United States, where it has launched several promotions and campaigns aiming to get consumers to become more physically active while not spurning Coca-Cola.

The debut of Coca-Cola Life in the UK also may revive a controversy over the iconic Coke logo and colors. Life’s packaging is green, and the last time the company switched the color of its iconic red cans and labels in a high-profile campaign—three years ago when it tried to “save” polar bears with a white can and holiday partnership with the WWF—brand purists didn’t appreciate the gambit and consumers got confused, prompting Coke to stop distributing the white cans and bring back its traditional red.

Nevertheless, Coke also has messed with its packaging in the United States in a new campaign rolling out this summer that invites Americans to “Share a Coke” by putting 250 of the nation’s most popular first names among teens and Millennials on 20-ounce bottles. Coke also is putting “group names” such as “Family,” “Grillmaster” and “Wingman” on bottles, a continuation of the Share a Coke campaign that launched in Australia in 2012 before expanding to the UK, where it’s being revived this summer.

According to Coca-Cola’s US press release, “Beginning June 12, fans can experience the campaign online at shareacoke.com by personalizing virtual bottles and sharing them with friends across Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. ‘Share a Coke’ will tour the nation with more than 500 stops where people can customize a Coca-Cola mini can for themselves and a second can for someone special. ShareaCoke.com will provide date and location information for the cross-country tour.”

The UK press release, meanwhile, notes that consumers there can choose from 1,000 names in stores, or personalize with a choice of 500,000 names at shareacoke.co.uk: “Coca‑Cola is making the campaign more personal than ever by introducing targeted large PET bottles across Coke and its no-calorie [Coke Zero] variants. These celebrate family by encouraging people to share with parents through ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ appearing on pack. The 330ml cans will feature a selection of nicknames including ‘Mate’ and ‘Friends’.”

As for how it’s being messaged in the two markets, compare the more straightforward US spot with the boppier UK “Share a Coke with Bobby” commercial (which originated in South Africa and features The Ting Tings’ “You Know My Name”) below:

• Connect with Dale on Twitter: @daledbuss

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