Coca-Cola launches 28 SKUs at NACS: ‘There’s no channel better to start in than convenience’

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

“Variety and choice are increasingly important to shoppers, and nowhere is that truer than in the convenience retail channel.”
“Variety and choice are increasingly important to shoppers, and nowhere is that truer than in the convenience retail channel.”

Related tags Energy drinks Coca-cola company Coca-cola Coke Dunkin' donuts sprite Fanta NACS

Proving its power as a total beverage company, Coca-Cola North America showcased 28 new SKUs at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show this month in Atlanta. Energy, coffee, tea, juice, water and more hit the expo floor.

The Coca-Cola Company has served global beverage consumers for more than 130 years, but in the last 10 it has faced greater pressure to build a well-rounded portfolio. Carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) don’t rule the grocery aisles the way they used to.

Today’s consumers want variety, convenience, natural ingredients, low calorie and low sugar, among countless more requirements, all with a superior taste. At this year’s NACS show Coca-Cola displayed a record 28 new SKUs across its family of brands.

And in the interest of maintaining its status as a total beverage category leader, many of Coca-Cola’s offerings now have functional ingredients, or have cut out artificial additives and sugar.

James Ford, VP of category strategic advisory at Coca-Cola North America, said “Variety and choice are increasingly important to shoppers, and nowhere is that truer than in the convenience retail channel.”

“As a total beverage company, we are introducing new drinks based on what we know consumers are craving. From sparkling soft drinks to energy, from tea to juice and from cold brew to dairy, our innovation on display at NACS includes something for everyone and every occasion.”

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Cola-forward energy

The biggest news from Coca-Cola is its entrance to the energy drink market. Coca-Cola Energy launched in test markets like Spain and Hungary early in 2019, and will be rolling out across North America in early 2020.

Four SKUs start off the line--an original cola with sugar, a cherry cola with sugar, and zero sugar counterparts for each. The with-sugar varieties contain 140 calories per 12oz can, while the zero sugar drinks contain no calories.

“Coca-Cola Energy gives people a more appealing energy drink option that is approachable even to people who may have never tried energy drinks before. The launch of Coca-Cola Energy supports the company’s efforts to bring more variety and more options that meet changing consumer preferences, lifestyles and tastes,”​ Coca-Cola said.

The penetration of energy drinks in American households was found to be 43% through 2018, according to JC Harvey, director of commercial strategy at Coca-Cola North America. He told BeverageDaily that this 57% gap was an opportunity for the company to grow energy and address what’s not being served in the category.

Coca-Cola chose to introduce energy under its flagship brand with a cola-forward taste to differentiate itself from the rest of the fruity, sugary energy industry. Each can has 114mg of caffeine, guarana extracts and B-vitamins.

“It’s intended to be a more approachable offering within energy, and appealing specifically to people who have not entered the category yet,”​ Harvey said.

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Coca-Cola aims to have Energy in 28 markets by early 2020. It will be in mass retail in North America, but there will be an emphasis on its c-store presence, where most energy drinks are purchased.

Cinnamon, vanilla and piña colada flavors

In celebration of the holidays, Cinnamon Coke launched nationwide on September 30 as the brand’s first seasonal flavor in North America. It is limited edition and available while supplies last in 12oz cans, 7.5oz cans and 20oz bottles.

Sprite Winter Spiced Cranberry hit shelves on the same day as Cinnamon Coke, and will also be a limited edition flavor sold through December. The warm spice and tart cranberry blend was inspired by Sprite Cranberry, originally introduced in 2013.

Following the success of this year’s Orange Vanilla Coke launch, the flagship brand will have another permanent flavor. Cherry Vanilla Coke and Cherry Vanilla Zero Sugar are expected to launch in February 2020.

After years of charting as the number one flavored Coke product among the brand’s multicultural and millennial consumers in the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in restaurants, it is being packaged for the first time. Both will be sold in 12oz cans and 20oz bottles.

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The Fanta brand has a new permanent flavor also coming in February 2020. From internal testing at Coca-Cola, Piña Colada showed the highest purchase intent in the history of proposed Fanta flavors. The company also found that between 2015-2018 the coconut and pineapple combo was the number one fruit fusion trend in food and beverage.

Blue Raspberry will join the Minute Maid lineup in 2020 after Coca-Cola learned that Blue Raspberry flavors have recently grown in beverages 6% year-over-year. Harvey said that the decision came from consumers wanting variety even within their juice drinks.

Coffees, teas and omega 3s

Dunkin’s RTD portfolio is expanding with bottled Cold Brew Coffee, available in Caramel Black and Midnight Black. Harvey said cold brew is the fastest growing segment in shelf stable coffee, up 33% in dollar volume in last 52 weeks.

The new coffees contain between 30-40 calories per bottle, adhering to the trend that consumers are looking for smoother, less acidic coffee with less sugar and fewer calories.

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Core Power will add a third flavor to its Elite line in January 2020. Strawberry joins Chocolate and Vanilla with 42g protein per bottle, designed to aid in athletic recovery and build lean muscle. The high protein shake is made with ultra filtered milk to satisfy both hunger and hydration.

Last month Odwalla announced a zero sugar smoothie collection, which advertises as keto-friendly with 3g of net carbs per bottle and high protein. Strawberries and Cream, Dark Choco-Berry and Vanilla Matcha are available now, marketed to the ‘active lifestyle’ consumer.

Coming in January, new Simply Tea single serves are a spin off of the Simply juice line, featuring real brewed black tea. The three varieties are With Lemon, With Raspberry and With Peach, made with not-from-concentrate juice at 70 calories per bottle.

Peace Tea will add two new flavors to its canned iced tea portfolio, Hello Mango and Razzleberry zero sugar, rolling out in March 2020. SmartWater launches its first flavored still waters in December, lightly infused with natural fruit and herbs--Pineapple Kiwi, Strawberry Blackberry, Cucumber Lime and Watermelon Mint.

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A startup super fusion juice brand hits shelves in January, boasting 32mg of DHA omega 3s per bottle. Gomega is also a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E. It contains 25 calories per bottle with 1-2g of natural sugar.

Harvey said Coca-Cola’s transformational innovation team took the product from concept to execution in 20 weeks, a record at the company. Gomega launches in Berry Acai, Strawberry Guava and Mango Passionfruit and is gluten free, soy free, vegan and kosher.

Though all of Coca-Cola’s new SKUs will eventually make it to mass grocery and retail in North America, Harvey said “There’s no channel better to start in than convenience, because it allows people a low barrier to trial because of the single serve. It’s very important.”

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