‘I’m a fan. The low-calorie cola segment in the US is in desperate need of some kind of refresh…’

'It appears Diet Coke is going after the sparkling water craze...' Designers weigh in on the new look

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Diet Coke unveils bold new look... but what do designers think?

Related tags: Coca-cola

Coca-Cola is rolling out a bold new look for Diet Coke in slimmer 12oz cans, and introducing four spicy new flavors: Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango.* But what do designers and market researchers think of the new look, which minimizes the word ‘Diet’?

Industry commentators FoodNavigator-USA polled this morning were broadly in favor, with some caveats.

Blake Mitchell, principal at branding and packaging studio Interact Boulder, felt the new look was taking some cues from the sparkling water category, which has been growing explosively, while diet soda has been steadily declining: “WOW! Personally, I love it.

“It appears Diet Coke is going after the sparkling water craze. Slim cans, a revised design hierarchy with pops of color and fruit imagery are all common in the sparkling water category.

“If I were a Diet Coke consumer and looking for something that appears to be healthier, I would likely put this in my shopping cart. It's also interesting to note that how they've diminished the diet call out while letting the silver do the heavy lifting for recognizability to the Diet Coke consumer.”

'They've diminished the 'diet' call out'

Simon Thorneycroft, founder and CEO at design agency Perspective Branding also appreciated the “clean​” new look, but was not blown away by the design – the result of a two year innovation process.

“It’s a nice, clean, practical and simple system, but just lacks any personality to me. Coke has so much personality as a brand – why can’t even the smallest bit make its way to the packaging?

“If it wasn’t for COKE being such an iconic brand name, I think we might all feel like this was a poor private label design!”

Will it bring in a younger demographic?

As to whether the new look and flavors will help attract new consumers and encourage existing fans to consume more, meanwhile, only time will tell, said Euromonitor’s Howard Telford, but some kind of refresh was definitely needed, he said.

“I’m a fan. Generally the low-calorie cola segment in the US is in desperate need of some kind of refresh – 2017 was another year of mid-single digit volume decline for the category as a whole and low-cal continues to underperform regular, full-flavour cola.

“I think the new packaging looks really good and the flavors are certainly bold and interesting. This is really about using flavors to try and reach new consumers for a brand that has a very loyal following but has really struggled to bring in a new, younger demographic.”

The formula isn't changing

However, said Telford: “The flip side is that communicating this change to that core, loyal Diet Coke drinker is going to be crucial to success. In the launch this morning they were very careful to point out that nothing is changing to the actual formula of Diet Coke and this is really about new packaging and adding more choice in terms of flavors.

“If we look at the Diet Pepsi sweetener change back in 2016​ ​[in which PepsiCo replaced aspartame with sucralose in Diet Pepsi, but did not restore the brand's flagging fortunes] you can see the potential blowback that you might encounter when you are perceived to alter a brand that still has a very loyal, core group of consumers (despite weak growth in terms of volume).”

Diet-Coke new look

'A more premium drinking experience'

According to Coca-Cola, which detailed the thinking behind the new look on a post​ on its website, the new look is “making the brand more relatable and more authentic​.”

Slimmer cans meanwhile, “offer a more premium drinking experience for our fans, and they visually represent an evolution of the brand’s personality, standing taller and more assertive​ (standard 12oz Diet Coke cans will continue to be available in 12-packs)," said the company.

The new flavors were inspired by consumer research polling 10,000+ people “pointing to younger Americans’ affinity for big, yet refreshing and great-tasting, flavors in their favorite foods and beverages – from hoppy craft beers to spicy sauces​,” added the brand, which was quick to note that the formula and sweetening system (aspartame and ace-K) is not changing.

The new look features a red strip VP global design James Sommerville and his team named the ‘High Line’ – a vertical red band that flows through Diet Coke packaging and into all communications, from outdoor advertising to social media.

“The ‘High Line’ is a Coca-Cola red disc that has gone for a walk​,” said Sommerville. “It visualizes how the Diet Coke brand, the innovation – and the consumers who love Diet Coke – are continually on the move, with confidence.”

The performance of diet brands has improved slightly recently

While the low- and no-calorie beverage category has been under pressure for several years,** acknowledged Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America’s group director for Diet Coke, “its performance has been improving recently, and Diet Coke remains an incredibly strong brand.

“Following the double-digit growth we’ve seen from Coke Zero Sugar since its introduction last fall and with this full Diet Coke brand relaunch, we believe we can continue to re-energize and strengthen our no-calorie business. We’re building a portfolio for the future with great-tasting options people want.”

The new design and flavors will launch in the US in mid-January, followed by Canada in February.  

*While Diet Coke Cherry and Diet Coke Lime 12-packs are being replaced in retail stores by Diet Coke Feisty Cherry and Diet Coke Ginger Lime, the original flavors will continue to be available nationwide online.  

**According to industry publication Beverage Digest​, which first broke the Diet Coke re-brand story, Diet Coke is the third largest carbonated soft drink brand in the US, with an estimated 7.7% share of the market, and saw brand volumes decline about -4.3% last year, while Diet Pepsi declined about -7.7% (brand volumes) by comparison. 

According to Nielsen data collated by Wells Fargo, dollar sales of low and zero calorie carbonated soft drinks fell 2.5% in the 52 weeks to December 30, 2017, with unit sales down 4.5%. Coca-Cola's sales in this category down 1% and PepsiCo's sales down 4%.

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