Coca-Cola relaunches Coke Zero Sugar across North America

Backed by a global campaign, the new formulation and packaging come as the drink proves to be a growth-driver for the CPG.

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar

When Coca-Cola relaunched Coke Zero as Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in 2017, the beverage giant tweaked the recipe to make the zero-sugar, zero-calorie formulation more closely resemble the taste of original Coke. The product’s name was changed to better reflect its calorie-free proposition, and more red was added to the packaging, while the ingredient list remained unchanged.

After nearly five years, the company is once again evolving the product. And the goal remains the same: to offer a better-for-you soft drink whose taste and experience rivals that of the original, flagship product.

Coca-Cola Zero SugarAlready available in select markets worldwide, a new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar will begin hitting shelves in select U.S. retailers this month, with nationwide distribution to follow across both Canada and the U.S. in August. The company says the new formula was developed by “optimizing the blend of flavours using the same ingredients.” Meanwhile, the packaging has been simplified and is now fully red – like Coke Original – but with black, instead of white, Spencerian script.

“The idea is to keep evolving the Coca-Cola Zero Sugar experience the most we can to bring it closer to the Coca-Cola original taste,” says Rafael Prandini, VP at Coca-Cola North America in an exclusive Canadian interview with strategy. “We’re seeing great results with this formula in the markets that have already launched, like Europe and Latin America, so we are very confident that we have a formulation that’s worth it to launch [in North America].”

Prandini would not specify what product challenges or consumer preferences the reformulation attempts to address, saying only that “the idea is to keep bringing [the two] propositions closer together as one brand, with different choices for the consumer.”

The relaunch is being supported with a global “Best Coke Ever?” campaign, led by Buenos Aires-based Mercado McCann, with creative already appearing in other international markets. Launching in Canada in September, the campaign invites consumers to try the new version and decide for themselves whether it is the “best Coke ever.”

“The idea is to really make from this campaign, a conversation, a dialogue,” says Prandini. “The most important thing we really want is consumers to try and then give us their feedback, their opinion, so that we can create this conversation with them.”

The product changes come despite Coca-Coca Zero Sugar being a bright spot for the company throughout the pandemic. Already in 2020, the soft-drink’s growth reached into the double digits in 59 different countries and territories. And during Q1 2021, sales of Coke Zero Sugar were up 8% globally – double the 4% growth experienced by the Coca-Cola trademark – though CEO James Quincey noted it “still represents a relatively small percentage of the trademark.” Those results came only months after Quincey told CNBC he expected Coca-Cola Zero Sugar to be the company’s biggest source of growth in 2021.

Prandini says Coke Zero Sugar continued to see strong results into the second quarter, though results will only be reported on July 21.

“What we’re seeing in different markets across the world that have already launched the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is great results in the marketplace, and most importantly, great feedback from consumers and customers,” he says.

While Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been a growth driver in recent quarters, the VP says the company has “not seen any big change in terms of the dynamics within the portfolio because of the pandemic.”

At a corporate level, Coca-Cola has prioritized reshaping its portfolio and reducing added sugar from its suite of beverages as consumer preferences shift towards more natural beverages with fewer sugars and additives. Today, 18 of its top 20 brands are low- or no-sugar or have a no- or low-sugar option. And, last year, the U.K. became the first country in which it sells more no-sugar cola (both diet and zero-sugar combined) than regular Coca-Cola.

“In some markets around the world, zero-calorie beverages have not yet developed a strong consumer base,” the company notes in its 2020 annual report. “But many consumers tell us they want more drinks that have less sugar and fewer calories than our original recipes.”

Outside of the Coca-Cola trademark, the company has been making other changes to its portfolio and operations. During fiscal 2020, it cut its portfolio in half from roughly 400 to 200 master brands, with the goal of focusing on those with the most potential. And in February, it began moving to a more centralized structure based in the U.S., resulting in the departure of its Canadian marketing lead.