Innovation Monitor: Coca-Cola enters premium mixers

Experts weigh in on the soft drinks giant's decision to launch Coca-Cola Signature Mixers in the U.K.

Like many categories experiencing slow growth, the carbonated beverages industry has looked to diversify as sales slump and consumers turn to water, fruit juices, seltzer and other alternatives, says Ken Wong, professor of marketing at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business.

But that may only be one reason behind Coca-Cola’s launch into the premium mixer category.

Last week, the beverage giant introduced Coca-Cola Signature Mixers, a premium range of mixers designed for drinking with dark spirits. The line (which includes four flavours), will hit the U.K. market in June and will be served in the Hutchinson glass bottle (a nod to the silhouette of the first Coca-Cola bottle). The company hasn’t yet announced plans to bring the line to Canada.

The move comes as consumers drift towards more expensive mixers. As reported in Marketing Week, numbers provided by research firm CGA show premium mixers have grown 32.9% in the U.K., while mainstream products have dipped 7%  a trend that is expected to continue.

While the Coca-Cola mixers line is innovative, Graham Robertson, a brand advisor and author of Beloved Brands, argues it “actually feels 10 to 15 years late.” After all, the phrase “Rum and Coke” has been around for ages. He says the play should be interpreted more as an “opportunistic or tactical move” for Coke, one that ultimately falls outside of its bigger strategic shift towards healthier choices.

“I’d equate these Coke Mixers to McDonald’s All Day breakfast,” he says. “Both are easy ways to give a nice sales boost. But don’t let those short-term gains distract you from the real mission of finding healthier choices in the future to replace the unhealthy choices.”

So what should CPG marketers be thinking here at home?

Summarizing his perspective, Wong says the launch is “a reminder that in every product or service category you either innovate or die. Second, the market is fragmenting and that tends to support the efforts of niche-oriented firms. Third, Coke may have just made it tougher to get shelf space.”

The soft drinks giant made its first foray into alcoholic beverages in 2018 with the launch of Lemon-Do, a shōchū-based ready-­to-­drink product for the Japanese market. Still, Robertson says the reason it likely took this long for Coca-Cola to enter the race is the idea that alcohol could damage the “wholesomeness of Coke.” But, ultimately, he doesn’t think it will.

This article is part of a series in Strategy C-Suite exploring how brands are innovating at home and abroad. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.