The calorie-free drinks represent Coca-Cola North America’s first major brand launch in a decade, following that of billion-dollar tea brand Gold Peak in 2006. Coca-Cola hopes to tap into demand for ‘American’s thirst for drinks without sugar or calories – but with fizz and flavor’.
Green tea, honey and black cherry
AHA - which will replace DASANI Sparkling at retail - launches with eight ‘bold flavor fusions’: Lime + Watermelon, Strawberry + Cucumber, Citrus + Green Tea, Black Cherry + Coffee, Orange + Grapefruit, Apple + Ginger, Blueberry + Pomegranate and Peach + Honey.
Coca-Cola says the line has been designed to pair widely appealing fruit flavors with trending but less expected ones – responding to demand from retailers who didn’t want ‘yet another lime or berry flavored sparkling water’
It started with a list of 800 potential flavors, before testing select combinations with consumers and then settling on the final eight. Championing its speed in innovation, Coca-Cola says the product took six months to bring from concept to prototype.
“We knew we needed to launch something new and differentiated,” said Nilesh Karava, who oversees R&D for Coca-Cola North America’s water and active hydration portfolio. “But we wanted to appeal to a wide base of consumers.
“Some of the flavors we landed on – green tea, honey and black cherry, for example – are very niche. If we were to launch these on their own, we’d be limiting our consumer base. That’s why we paired mainstream fruit flavors – berries and citruses – with trending tastes, or what we call “halo” flavors.”
The choice of flavors was also important in order to create beverages without sugar, said Karava.
“When a consumer reaches for any food or beverage, the three most important aspects are appearance, aromatics and taste. The moment you open a can of AHA, you enjoy the effervescent aromatics before you take your first sip. Without sugar or juice, aromatics can be a challenge to have with sparkling water. So we intentionally pursued naturally aromatic flavors.”
The caffeine conundrum
Two AHA flavors (citrus + green tea and black cherry + coffee) contain 30mg caffeine to give consumers a ‘pick me up’.
“Adding caffeine is challenging because it has a naturally bitter taste, so we had to work our magic,” said Karava.
“Caffeinated beverages can contain anywhere from 10 to 50 milligrams of caffeine, but we netted out around 30 milligrams for these two AHA flavors. That’s our sweet spot. Anything beyond that would compromise taste.
“We also knew that not all consumers wanted caffeine and that’s why we decided to provide the option of caffeine versus offering on all of the eight SKUS.”
Sparking water: ‘AHA is our big-bet brand in this big-bet category’
Coca-Cola continues to shift its focus from being a soda giant towards the creation of a ‘total beverage company’ – one that plays in a wide variety of trending beverage categories.
Retail sales of Coke North America’s sparkling water portfolio – which seeks to offer brand propositions for a range of palates at different price points and package options – were up 27% in 2018, according to Nielsen figures.
In sparkling, its brands include smartwater sparkling and premium Mexican mineral water Topo Chico. AHA joins the portfolio in March 2020, replacing DASANI sparkling in retail, although DASANI will continue to be available on PureFill and Coca-Cola Freestyle.
“As the largest and fastest-growing part of the water business, mainstream flavored sparkling water is a segment we know we must double-down on,” said Celina Li, VP, Water, Coca-Cola North America. “AHA is our big-bet brand in this big-bet category.”