Commentary

Coca-Cola Launching First Trademark Flavor In More Than A Decade

“Would you like an Orange Vanilla Coca-Cola with that?” is soon to become an option in both regular and zero-sugar versions. 

The Atlanta-based soft drink and bottled water marketer announced Friday that its “first Coca-Cola trademark flavor innovations” since Vanilla Coke and Cherry Coke Zero were launched in 2007 will be available on shelves and in starting Feb 25. It also will be available exclusively in soda dispensers at Wendy’s restaurants through the end of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. It will then roll out nationally across all Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispensers.

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“What we realized is that we had a diamond in the rough when we looked at our flavors portfolio,” Coca-Cola brand director Kate Carpenter tells Jay Moye in a Coca-Cola blog post announcing the new concoction. “The growth of Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke -- and their zero-calorie variants -- has been really strong in recent years even with very limited marketing support.”

“Retail sales of flavored Coca-Cola beverages grew 2% through the third quarter without substantial marketing, Carpenter tells Business Insider’s Kate Taylor.

“Americans are increasingly looking for variety, especially as many have stopped drinking soda as an everyday routine. Last year, Diet Coke jump-started sales after releasing four new flavors, including Feisty Cherry and Twisted Mango,” Taylor writes -- not to mention Zesty Blood Orange and Ginger Lime.

“Taste testers at Business Insider confirmed that [Orange Vanilla Coca-Cola] was more appealing than expected, describing it as a sweet, Creamsicle-esque cola with notes of Fanta. The drink avoids emphasizing any acidity of orange that could clash with Coca-Cola's classic flavors, producing a smooth, albeit borderline saccharine, drink,” Taylor reports.

“The brand tried out three other flavors -- raspberry, lemon and ginger -- but the focus group loved the orange vanilla one the most,” Najja Parker writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We wanted to bring back positive memories of carefree summer days,” Carpenter says in the blog post. “That’s why we leaned into the orange-vanilla flavor combination -- which is reminiscent of the creamy orange popsicles we grew up loving, but in a classically Coke way.”

Coke Orange No Sugar launched in Australia last summer and Coke Orange Vanilla was available in Canada.

“The Orange Vanilla Coke has 140 calories per serving, while the Coke Zero version has 0 calories, of course,” writes Ana Calderone for People. “Coke Zero got a makeover in 2017 when the company altered the recipe and relaunched it as Coke Zero Sugar. Fans of the original recipe were understandably skeptical of the change at first, though the dust seems to have settled since then.”

The headline over CNN Business’ story is rather ominous: “Coke launches new flavor to keep customers from leaving it behind.” Danielle Wiener-Bronner’s story, and an accompanying video clip, remind us of some of the company’s infamous flavor flops of the past, including the disastrous rollout of New Coke in 1985.

“The beverage company also experimented with Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and a coffee-flavor called Coca-Cola Blak, among others. The Coke flavors that work best are the ones that complement or enhance the original recipe, said Laurent Grandet, a consumer analyst with Guggenheim Securities,” Wiener-Bronner writes. 

“New flavors, [Grandet] added, are a way of drumming up attention for the brand. … A line extension gives a product more space on retail shelves. And flavors usually aren't discounted, so Coca-Cola can increase its margins by selling flavored versions of the product, he said.”

“The Orange Vanilla announcement comes at a time when Big Soda contends with criticism over American's unhealthy eating habits and with municipalities around the country passing so-called soda taxes. Plus, Americans now buy more bottled water than carbonated beverages, data from the research and consulting company Beverage Marketing found,” Zlati Meyer points out for USA Today.

In a sardonic way, consultant Chris Matyszczyk applauds Coca-Cola for the launch in a piece for Inc.  “You might be tempted to believe that Coke -- as is the case with many sweet, carbonated drinks -- seems to have gone the way of other old-fashioned items such as ties and democracy. Yet in certain parts of its business that's not the case. The enticingly named Coca-Cola Zero Sugar appears to be doing quite well,” he writes.

“Perhaps encouraged that things aren’t quite so desperate -- well, not as desperate as Pepsi's dreadfully whiny Super Bowl ad -- Coke is actually releasing a new product,” Matyszczyk chides with faint praise.

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