Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola is thought to be developing a vanilla-flavoured variant to its flagship Coke brand. The Atlanta-based company would not confirm the widespread speculation that the line extension was on the way but said "we've always got a number of things in development."

However, beverage analysts in the US are convinced that Coca-Cola will launch the new brand, which will probably be marketed as Vanilla Coke, in the US within the next few months. The new variant is thought to be well beyond the development stage with bottlers already primed about the launch and reported to be very enthusiastic.

While Coca-Cola has traditionally been very cautious about extending its flagship brand in the past, the falling market share of the dominant Cola drinks and the arrival of so many new kinds of soft drinks on the market has clearly influenced the company's thinking. Colas accounted for around 71% of the CSD market in the US in volume terms in 1990 but by last year that figure had fallen to around 60%. While Coca-Cola introduced a lemon-flavoured variant to Diet Coke last year, the only other flavoured extension to the Coke brand was Cherry Coke which was launched in 1985.

The idea for the vanilla flavoured alternative will undoubtedly have been prompted by the trend being widely observed in the US for flavouring Coca-Cola with vanilla-flavoured syrup.

Coca-Cola's reported plans were given a warm welcome by brand experts. "It's absolutely the right thing to do," said Jim Johnson, chief executive of brand consultants, Enterprise IG. "It recognises the empowered consumer." He added that consumers had already shown an interest in customising products to their own tastes and Cherry Coke had shown there was a demand for the flavoured Coke variants. "It will probably enhance Coca-Cola's brand name by making people feel it's a company that responds to what people want."