In a statement on its website Wednesday, Coca-Cola said the mid-calorie, naturally-sweetened cola - which has 60 calories per 8-oz glass bottle vs 93 calories for 8oz of regular Coke - is rolling out to supermarkets, c-stores and drug stores across the country.
However, it chose not to comment on a report from consultancy Haynes & Co claiming that sales were "likely better than expected" in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida; that customers "love it"; and that it has "an undeniable hit" on its hands.
The Haynes research - which follows an October 1 report from Sanford Bernstein claiming that Coca-Cola Life had got off to a ‘lackluster’ start (click HERE) - included an online survey of several hundred consumers who recalled seeing Coca-Cola Life in stores, and 72 who had purchased it; in-store field research in Atlanta; and a telephone survey of Fresh Market store managers in 22 stores in all four trial states.
It was conducted between September 26 and October 3.
It found that:
- 80% of purchasers said they would buy Coca-Cola Life again.
- Being like full-sugar Coca-Cola in taste was important to 60% of purchasers, and nearly the same percentage felt it was close to or exactly the same in taste.
- For 45% of respondents, Coca-Cola Life had replaced 75% or more of their normal soda purchases.
- Half of respondents said they were buying more soda as a result of having Coca-Cola Life as an option.
- 50% of store managers said repeat purchasers were already a core part of the emerging Coca-Cola Life consumer base, while 50% of stores contacted had sold out at least once.
The product looks and feels upscale
According to Haynes & Co president and founder Elizabeth Haynes: “The green label helps this product stand out … From end-cap displays in the deli aisle to prime positioning at front doors with healthy and organic snacks, the product looks and feels upscale en masse…
“Overall, with incredibly positive store sentiment - Haynes & Company analysis putting the average store score at 4.5 stars (of out of 5) – and equally high marks from consumers – 70% of purchasers rate the taste 4 or 5 stars – we believe all signs point to Coke having an undeniable hit on its hands.”
All signs point to Coke having an undeniable hit on its hands
But why does her research suggest a picture so much rosier than that recently painted by Sanford Bernstein?
Haynes told FoodNavigator-USA she couldn't comment on the earlier data, but said that she was confident she had an accurate picture:
“We believe that a new product launch succeeds in the marketplace by laddering consumer behavior: first, getting them to pick it up and try it for which newness and visual appeal must be there; second, delighting them when they actually taste the product; and third, being relevant enough that the consumer purchases again and again. This product, based on our triumvirate approach, is giving off signs of success to us."
While some store managers complained about the roll-out (not getting product on time, not getting replacement product), the only negative feedback was that "some customers and managers felt that it tasted like "flat Coke Zero", but even these managers were positive on the product overall", she said.
Jonas Feliciano: I’m not convinced that this represents a long-term solution for carbonate decline in the US
Jonas Feliciano, senior beverages analyst at Euromonitor International, told FoodNavigator-USA it would be fascinating to see if sales data supported some of this encouraging consumer sentiment.
He added: "There is something definitely unique about the green label alone – enough of a change that draws consumer eyes and encourages them to try the product and also signifying that this product is indeed 'different' from the Coke or Diet Coke that they are used to. Part of the problem with Pepsi Next was they were still trying to sell consumers on the replication of full calorie products rather than embracing this as something familiar, yet new.
"That said, I’m not convinced that this represents a long-term solution for carbonate decline in the US. The problem of 'close but not quite' taste still exists and is compounded by the fact that this beverage is a mid-calorie product – something that has never worked in the past.
"Coke Life and Pepsi True may seem to be a better alternative to full flavored and zero calorie colas, but to turn the tide, these products need to be a better choice than flavored/functional bottled waters, liquid water enhancers, new flavors of energy drinks, RTD teas or any other category that has seen growth at the expense of carbonates."
Initial success may be tied to green labels rather than a wider acceptance of stevia
As for what Coke Life and Pepsi True will do for stevia, it's still too early to say, he added.
"I believe initial success may be tied to the innovative green labeling rather than a wider acceptance of stevia as a solution. With the nationwide launch, stevia will be under a giant microscope as consumers, media and the scientific community all weigh in on, not only the naturally occurring plant, but the process by which it is created.
"Is stevia ready for this spotlight? And are Coca-Cola and Pepsi the companies best suited to handle its image?"