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Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - Is Australia the Real Home of Innovation?

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Having recently returned from Australia, Ray Rowlands of Drinksinfo Ltd, takes a look at some of the recent soft drinks developments he encountered Down Under and draws the conclusion that, rather than being an isolated backwater, Australia is actually at the cutting edge of innovation.

Many soft drinks companies have launched their new ideas in Australia

Many soft drinks companies have launched their new ideas in Australia

In 2011, Coca-Cola began selling personalised packs of Coke around the globe, replacing its iconic logo with christian names, from Abe to Zack and all ports in between. The idea was that you bought a personalised bottle or can for your sweetheart, your mum, siblings or, if you were feeling really egocentric, for yourself. By all accounts, the Share-a-Coke campaign was a huge success and was even extended to include song lyrics on the pack label rather than individuals names.

What many people do not know, however, is that the idea for Share-A-Coke actually originated in Australia. It came into being after it was discovered that local youngsters were reducing their consumption of Coca-Cola products. A study in 2010 had found that 50% of this audience had not consumed a Coke in over four weeks. As in other parts of the world, the country’s soda market was struggling. It was decided there and then that it was time to re-introduce the brand to the Australian consumer and so the Share-A-Coke campaign was born in October 2011. 

Local teen and young adult Coke consumption reportedly rose by 7% as a result, and the summer was said to have been the most successful ever for the brand.

Now, Australia is setting the trend once again. Towards the end of 2014, Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), the brains behind the Share-A-Coke idea, released its 'Colour your Summer' campaign. This employed tongue-in-cheek digital adverts to promote 25cl Coke cans in a selection of six neon colours. Pink, purple, blue, green and orange cans, besides the traditional red option, went on sale at the start of November.

All very ground breaking, some might even say dangerous as the approach potentially weakens the impact of the famous red colouring and could distance the more conservative brand supporters. Obviously, CCA has faith in the approach as it invested a similar level of marketing spend as was put behind the Share-a-Coke campaign, over AUD10m (US$7.8m).

Of course, Coca-Cola is not the only major beverage multi-national to have chosen Australia as its pilot market in respect of innovation. In 2012, PepsiCo picked this market to launch Pepsi Next, the variant that uses stevia to replace 30% of the sugar found in its regular cola. This launch was highly significant on two counts. First of all, it was the first time that the company had used stevia in its core brand (Pepsi Life was already available in the US but contained artificial sweeteners). Secondly, it meant PepsiCo had beaten Coca-Cola to the post as the latter was yet to introduce a mainstream, stevia-based cola. Pepsi Life in Australia was developed to win back lost Pepsi drinkers who wanted to reduce the calories but did not like the taste of artificial sweeteners.

Needless to say, Coca-Cola subsequently launched its own stevia sweetened Coke Life in Australia, but admittedly only after it had been released in a few other countries. What is more interesting is that the MD of CCA has stated that this is just the first in a line of naturally-sweetened drinks that the company will launch by 2017. So Coke Life is just the start of, what could turn out to be, a long innovative process in Australia.

Besides Coke pack promotions, the Australians have proven pretty instrumental in developing other new soft drinks packaging. Early last year packaging company Visy, together with Schweppes, developed a new 100% recycled and recyclable PET water bottle made in Australia entirely from old bottles which had been cleaned, ground, and then reformed. The lightweight bottle, created for the Coles supermarket chain, is one of the few available globally that is made from 100% recycled and recyclable material. It potentially saves over 130m bottles per year having to be produced from virgin plastic.

Staying with bottle innovation, in 2013 CCA had won the Australian Packaging Design Award for its 60cl Powerade nitro warmfill bottle. The components of the technology (warmfill and nitrogen dosing) are not new, but CCA was the first to combine the two. In addition to the material and energy savings achieved, the bottle, weighing just 24g compared to the previous 33g, now has a foil-less sports closure, resulting in further raw material savings as well as improved ease of opening. 

Other products using nitro hot fill around the world still tend to be heavier. The resultant uplift in sales, following the packaging redesign for the sports drinks brand, was reported to be approaching double digits.

Australia can also lay claim to being instrumental in the rise of the 50cl energy drink can when it was the chosen pack for the re-launch of the Mother energy drink in July 2008, also from Coca-Cola. This helped both brand and category expansion. Mother virtually tripled its year-on-year volume sales in the country in 2008 and firmly established itself as the number three brand in the category. This pack is now responsible for two-fifths of energy drink volumes across Australia and New Zealand and has been adopted globally by a host of major competitors including Monster and Rockstar.

So, as can be seen, Australia has been highly instrumental in developing a number of recent soft drink concepts. But, even earlier, the country was not exactly an innovation desert. Australia had, after all, already come up with the wine cask, the first practical dual-flush toilet, the black box flight recorder, oh and of course budgie smugglers (reputedly).


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