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Zero to reduce Coke's calorie count

Till Coca-cola introduces its products with stevia to reduce the sugar content, Coke Zero will help reduce the calories burden

Surajeet Das Gupta  |  New Delhi 

It has been a nine-year-long wait for consumers who swear by diet carbonated drinks. If everything goes as planned, Coca-cola will launch Coke Zero in India in October this year. The zero-calorie drink will be available both in 330-ml cans as well as in plastic bottles. It is expected to be priced on a par with Diet Coke.

Coke Zero, of course, won't change anything radically for the beverage giant that already has such winners as Thums Up - the largest beverage drink in the country. Even in the US, where diet carbonated drinks have caught the fancy of the consumers, it is, according to "Beverage Digest", the 10th in the pecking order in 2013. In the US, however, Diet Coke constitutes 9 per cent of the total carbonated drinks market, and is the second-most popular drink after regular Coke. Coke Zero had a market share of 1.9 per cent, just a little behind its orange drink, Fanta.

Of course, India is not a mature market. The per capita consumption of soft drinks is pegged at 14 bottles, in contrast to a global average of 90. But in India, Coke Zero could give a fillip to the nascent carbonated diet drinks market, which is miniscule. According to industry sources, diet beverages constitute only 1-2 per cent of total volumes. And, they are mainly limited to the metros, and that also, to the modern trade outlets. So, why should consumers shift from Diet Coke to Coke Zero. Those associated with the industry say that just like in other global markets, Coke Zero has two advantages. For one, it is clearly positioned as an alternative for young adult males who have always perceived Diet Coke as a women's drink to stay fit . Even globally that is the positioning for the drink that was launched in 2005. The same positioning will be done in India.

In terms of formulation, Coke Zero tastes more like the regular Coke than Diet Coke. In contrast, Diet Coke has its independent flavour profile that is different from the regular Coke. However, both use the same sweetener, which is a blend of aspartame and acesulfame-K. Experts say that in India, many consumers eschew having the diet product because they feel it has a bitter after-taste. With Zero that complain will be resolved.

The move to launch Coke Zero is also part of Coca-cola's larger strategy to offer more choices to consumers - especially those looking for products that are healthier and with lower calories.

Also it addresses the growing clamour in the government, which has been pushing for more healthy products. The Food Processing ministry recently told PepsiCo chairman Indra Nooyi, who was in India, that beverage giants should make their soft drinks healthier by reducing the sweet content in them.

Coca-cola, for instance, has been trying to do just that and expand its diet carbonated beverage category for a while now. It had applied and got permission from the government to utilise 'stevia', a natural sweetener extracted from a plant, and has no calories. However, the notification by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, is still awaited for the last two years as a result of which Coca-cola has not been able to introduce a range of other products..

Coca-cola has already introduced products which combine the natural sweetener with sugar to reduce overall calories in the drink, in global markets, thus catering to a growing demand in many countries, including India. Coca-cola has products in its stable such as Coke Life - a specially-packed green can - in markets like Argentina, Chile and the UK and is also planning its launch in the US.

In the UK, for instance, a 330-ml can of Coke Life, which uses a combination of 4-gram of sugar with stevia, has only 89 calories, a 39 per cent reduction compared to the almost 145 calories in a regular cola with only sugar (there is about 44 calories in 100-ml of Coke).

However the launch of any of these products would eventually depend on the government's green signal.

Till then Coke Zero could make some difference.

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First Published: Sun, September 14 2014. 21:49 IST