Coca-Cola Life launched in the UK last week

Coca-Cola Life launched in the UK last week

This month sees The Coca-Cola Co introduce Coca-Cola Life, a new variant of its namesake CSD brand in the UK. Stuart Whitwell from Intangible Business considers the chances of success for the extension.

Coca-Cola Life, which launched in the UK last week, has a third fewer calories than regular Coke and its combination of sugar with a healthier, plant-based sweetener called stevia is Coca-Cola’s innovation in response to “changing lifestyle trends”.

In an effort to convey the health-conscious values of Coke Life, the company has moved away from its iconic red labelling, in favour of a more natural green. As well as its eye-catching appearance, the change in colour resonates with the use of stevia leaf extract to sweeten the beverage. Green has become synonymous with environmentally-friendly, recyclable packaging and natural ingredients, both of which feature in Coca-Cola Life, making its colour change a simple, yet effective, alteration.

The ingredient swap in Coca-Cola Life has created a mid-calorie drink containing 89 calories per 33cl can, therefore slightly healthier than the regular variety, which contains 139 calories. This health initiative works in conjunction with the UK Government’s public health Responsibility Deal, in which Coca-Cola Great Britain has committed to reducing its average calories per litre by 5% across its entire CSD portfolio by the end of this year.

Coca-Cola has produced a variety of cola products, six of which are low calorie – four types of Diet Coke and two types of Coke Zero. The distinguishing feature of Coca-Cola Life is the use of stevia, targeting consumers that are looking for a naturally-sweetened alternative to low-calorie, artificially-sweetened offerings. However, the question arises, is stevia a strong enough asset to Coca-Cola Life to make it a successful product?

Coca-Cola Great Britain’s general manager, Jon Woods, states that the new release is targeted at those who wish to reduce their calorie intake, without compromising on taste. However, the product has received mixed reviews since its launch in Argentina and Chile in 2013, no doubt because the taste of the product is highly subjective.

The key difference with Coca-Cola Life is its lack of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, which many have argued is unhealthy and produces an unpleasant sweet taste. It may, therefore, appeal to those who want to drink something more natural, with fewer calories than regular Coke and without the excessive sweetness of artificially sweeteners.

Conversely, Coca-Cola may in fact be cannibalising its own market through brand extensions, rather than enticing new customers. Around 40% of the Coca-Cola brand stable sold in the UK is of the no-calories variety. Whilst the addition of Coca-Cola Life may prick consumer curiosity, it is more likely to attract existing customers by offering more choice, rather than expanding the company's market share.

On face value, the health benefits of the product and its co-ordinated branding appear to be targeting a niche audience within the soft drinks market. However, UK critics have highlighted that, whilst the brand purports to be a healthy alternative to calorific soft drinks, it still contains more than four tablespoons of real sugar – a quarter of a child’s recommended daily intake.

The branding could therefore be considered to mislead consumers.

Irrespective of the sugar content, Coca-Cola Life is an innovative product, and the first cola of its kind to enter the UK market. Coca-Cola must utilise this competitive advantage in order for the mid-calorie drinks category to take off, as rivals such as Pepsi Next will no doubt be following shortly.

Controversies with the products' ingredients will continue to exist, however a strong marketing campaign can effectively sedate such concerns, and entice those who wish to try a lower-calorie soft drink without artificial sweeteners.

Stuart Whitwell is joint managing director at brand valuation consultancy Intangible Business.