Chinese soft drinks group Malibu-Cola Beverage Co. is set to launch low-calorie versions to its stable in a move to stem rising health problems in the country, said the company's US owner.

Calcol Inc, a US vehicle for foreign investment in China, said late last week that it would also promote a health education campaign to educate consumers of the benefits of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

"We intend to be the first US company to follow this policy in China," said Calcol chairman and president Norman C. Kaplan. "Adult onset Type II Diabetes and obesity as well as heart disease due to dietary factors as well as heredity are a growing problem in China, both for children and adults, and our company emphatically wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem."

He added: "In May and June, at Carrefour, Tesco, and Wal-Mart stores in China we intend to bring out diet versions of our very popular flavours, which include Malibu-Cola, Malibu Sunrise Orange and Malibu Surf's Up Lemon Lime."

Malibu-Cola products retail at a 20-25% discount to Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co brands in China. Ji Jun, the company's president, said Malibu-Cola's profile among consumers was rising rapidly.

"We are riding an ascending wave of popularity with all age groups and demographics in China. Our new marketing program and product launch for the Spring and summer high selling season is starting to really take off," he added.