'Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar' will be 100% sweetened with a sweetener derived from the stevia leaf, promising a flavor profile closer to sugar without a bitter aftertaste due to the specific steviol glycoside used in the formulation.
The new product will be rolled out in the first half of 2018 in "a to-be-announced market outside the United States," the company said.
While Coca-Cola is already using stevia in Coca-Cola Life, it is blended with cane sugar. This results in around 35% fewer calories than Coca-Cola Classic.
Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar, however, will be sweetened with stevia alone.
Beverage launches using stevia have been outpacing food introductions using the plant-based sweetener (161% vs. 57%) for the past 5 years.
Coca-Cola previously launched Coca-Cola Life, sweetened with a combination of stevia and cane sugar, and containing 60 calories per can. The product is available in 30 markets including the US.
The company also launched a reformulated Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in the US and UK (replacing Coca-Cola Zero) sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame with 0.3 calories per 100ml (also rolling out as Coca-Cola No Sugar in other markets)
Revamping beverage portfolio
CEO James Quincey said the company is looking to renovate its portfolio through new product launches as well as “bolt-on acquisitions” such as its purchase of premium water brand Topo Chico last month.
Part of its new product launch strategy is to become more agile and cut down product development cycles, which has held the company back in the past, according to Quincey.
"It [new product launches] took a long time and you did relatively few of them, and you bet big on whether it would work or not," Quincey said during the presentation.
"The future is not going to work like that. We must be much more agile, get things to market quicker, maybe smaller, test, learn ... Speed and not waiting for everything is one of the things we've been trying to do."
‘Clean, sugar-like sweetness’
For “Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar”, the company has worked with Pure Circle on a joint development and supply agreement for Reb M – a steviol glycoside that imparts a “a clean, sugar-like sweetness” compared to previous forms of stevia used by the company.
“Facing global pressure on sugar and obesity, the beverage industry has long sought a naturally-sourced zero-calorie sweetener that tastes great in carbonated soft drinks, including colas,” Pure Circle CEO, Maga Malsagov, said in an email sent to employees.
“We are pleased that Coke will start testing this [Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar] new product next year.”
The evolution of Life at Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola Life was launched in Argentina and Chile in 2013, a drink sweetened with sugar and stevia and offering a beverage with fewer calories than classic Coca-Cola.
The drink was then rolled out to a number of other markets from 2014 onwards, including the US, UK, Australia and UAE.
Last year both the UK and Australia changed the recipe of Coca-Cola Life to reduce calories even further - going from a calorie reduction of 30% to around 45% (compared to a classic Coca-Cola). In Australia, the beverage was renamed as 'Coca-Cola with Stevia', in order to make the main feature of the product clearer to consumers.
However, this year Coca-Cola announced that the brand would be withdrawn from the UK market, saying it would instead focus on sugar-free sales to simplify choice for consumers.
Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar will be launched in the first half of 2018, although Coca-Cola has not yet revealed the launch market for this product (aside from confirming it will be outside the US).
There are other Coca-Cola beverages - such as Sprite in the UK - which also use a blend of stevia and sugar.