Coca-Cola has been on a journey to transform into a ‘total beverage company’ and gradually reduce sugar across its entire portfolio, according to its 2018 Business and Sustainability report.
Some of the ways it has done that is by developing smaller, more convenient packages so controlling sugar intake is easier, and offering more drinks that provide health benefits like nutrition and hydration.
With updated distribution methods and reformulations, Coca-Cola is “evolving across categories” and creating a “whole new culture for the company.” Throughout the total global portfolio, Coca-Cola reformulated 310 beverages in 2017 and 400 in 2018.
“People’s tastes and preferences are changing, so we’re changing, too,” Coca-Cola said.
Freestyling with craft and flavor
Speaking to BeverageDaily at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, Chris Hellmann, Global VP and general manager of Coca-Cola Freestyle, explained that its Freestyle machines are helping promote the company's no and low calorie drink options. In fact, in the US today, half of the beverages offered by all Freestyle models are diet, low calorie or low sugar, while others have been reformulated to reduce calories.
The Freestyle machines first debuted in 2009, and the new Bluetooth-compatible 9100 operating system was on display at the show. The digital touch-screen platforms are in retail and restaurants, and the 9100 offers roughly 200 beverage options from one device.
Coca-Cola also showcased a new countertop version with more than 60 beverage options, the Freestyle 7100, better suited for small applications.
There are more than 52,000 Freestyle machines in use, mostly located in the US with 2,000 in Europe, and nearly six billion drinks are served through Freestyle every year.
In the US, ‘bubbler beverages’ are considered to be the next big component of the company’s presence in fast casual chains. The bubbler machines are designed to house “artisan-inspired juices, teas, ades and aguas frescas” that are typically prepared on-site from concentrates.
Lynwood Mallard, lead of category strategy and innovation at Coca-Cola North America, told BeverageDaily that the bubblers are now the choice home for the company’s ‘crafted’ beverages, or ones that may be perceived as healthier, with less sugar and fewer calories.
The bubbler is able to maintain temperature and keep products with particles constantly moving, so it doesn’t ever settle to the bottom and clog the drain. Older variations of the bubbler technology would spray the drink around, and the newer models are updated with a propeller.
Coca-Cola found that 62% of US consumers have had a bubbler beverage in the last six months, and they’re growing between 25%-30% every year. Operators can switch out drinks daily, keep them behind the counter or near other self-serve options.
The most in-demand bubblers drinks are original and flavored lemonade, like from its Minute Maid and Hubert’s Lemonade brands, but flavored teas and juices from Odwalla and Honest Tea are also popular in the bubblers. They are mostly attracting younger, affluent consumers.
Melinda Pritchett, senior manager of category strategy and innovation at Coca-Cola North America, told BeverageDaily, “As we innovate, we realize people have choices. So we’re here to help them make better choices. Meaning, if you prefer higher sugar, we have that. Now we’re developing in that lower sugar space, so you could say that we have something for everyone.”
More options with less
In 2017 and 2018, Coca-Cola reported that it removed 425,000 tons of sugar from its products on an annualized basis through new recipes and smaller packaging sizes.
Its mini can design saw 30% growth last year in North America, and about 44% of its carbonated soft drinks now come in 8.5oz sizes or smaller.
It is part of a wider effort, as 95% of Coca Cola Chile’s drink portfolio is now comprised of low sugar and low calorie beverages, while Coca Cola Singapore has reduced the sugar in its Fanta and Sprite formulas by 40%. Similar efforts are being taken in markets around the world. Globally, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar saw double-digit volume growth in 2018.
Leading low sugar options in the Coca-Cola North America family include Coke Zero, Dasani Sparkling water, Honest Kids juice, VitaminWater Zero and many of the diet varieties of other brands, like Minute Maid and Sprite.
The original Coca-Cola recipe has also seen an overhaul, testing in Mexico with 30% less sugar. It removed 63,000 tons of sugar in the 2018 rollout, with more international markets expected this year.
Coca-Cola said it launched more than 600 products in 2018, particularly exploring those with vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, as well as dairy and plant-based beverages to meet consumer preferences.
“A big part of that is sugar reduction, because we know that people are eating and drinking less sugar, so we want to give them options to be able to do that,” Coca-Cola said.