Coca-Cola Life: A healthy brand extension, but will it succeed?

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In the US, two of every three adults, and one of every three children is obese. In Mexico, diabetes kills 70,000 people annually. Western diets—particularly processed food, artificial ingredients and sodas—are bearing most of the blame. 

In an effort to reverse this trend, health-conscious customers are drinking less and less sugary, carbonated sodas that clock in at about 250 calories per 600mL bottle. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has even tried to ban the bucket-sized soda portions. 

While Coke has attempted to address diet and obesity issues through its communications to customers via informative videos on health like this one, they are often met by a mocking parody. When it comes to health, soda continues to be the bad guy. So how do soda brands remain successful, when their very foundation is under fire and sales are steadily plummeting? 

Enter the new Coca-Cola Life, a new soda with only 108 calories per bottle that uses stevia as a sugar substitute. With less than half the calories of classic Coke, Coca-Cola Life is an appealing option for those seeking a healthier alternative. Promoted as “green” and “natural,” the beverage is sold in a recyclable PlantBottle, made from 30% plant-based materials. The initial launch occurred only in Argentina—no surprise, as the country is currently a top consumer of sodas (along with Mexico, the U.S., Chile and Uruguay). 

Branding reinforces the idea that the new beverage is “natural,” a theme now ever-present in the food and beverage industry in an attempt to attract health-conscious customers. The traditional red on the Coke label is replaced by an avocado-green hue, and images are treated with a natural, sepia tone. Advertisements depict blissful consumers in sunlit fields next to antique wooden crates filled with bottles of the new beverage—perhaps a nod to earlier times, before soda was accused as being one of the leading factors of obesity. Even the name Coca-Cola Life suggests that this new product is a healthier, more spirited choice when compared to full-calorie sodas. 

Coke is not the first soda company to enter this territory. Dr. Pepper TEN has had some success in the US, and Pepsi Next was introduced in Australia in 2004. These strategic product decisions—especially Coke’s—signal that consumer demands for healthier, more sustainable options have been heard, and brands will have to respond if they want remain relevant. 

How have other food and beverage brands reacted to this health trend? Who has adapted successfully, and do you think will have trouble? Can you think of any new brands that have emerged as a result of this trend? 

Anneliese Atwell is an associate strategist in Siegel+Gale’s New York office. You can follow her on Twitter at @annelieseatwell

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