While Coca-Cola's 136-year history has been largely defined by its portfolio of multibillion-dollar beverage brands, a bigger part of its future will center on bringing those iconic offerings into the frozen category.
Meredith Cagigal, group director of Coca-Cola's foodservice channels in North America, said frozen is "absolutely" a growth area for the beverage giant, particularly among younger millennials and Gen Z who will be responsible for a bigger share of the company's sales going forward. Frozen helps attract them to its portfolio of brands early on before they transition into more adult-like products like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or Diet Coke, she explained.
"We sell a lot of Coke, but we have to focus on where the consumers are going and where they're going to be," Cagigal said on the sidelines of the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in May. "Frozen is not the largest [segment at Coca-Cola], but we definitely think that's the pathway toward recruiting the next generation."
Coca-Cola is no stranger to frozen offerings. The soda giant has been selling sodas like Coke, Sprite and Fanta in frozen forms at movie theaters, convenience stores, theme parks and other venues for decades.
But the Atlanta beverage company has accelerated its frozen platform to boost growth and double down on its efforts to turn the business into a “total beverage company” as it moves further beyond its namesake sodas.
In the past few years, it has tapped into the name recognition of its brands by offering frozen Minute Maid Tropical, Powerade Mountain Berry Blast, Fanta Piña Colada and Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla. Cagigal said bringing a brand like Fanta or Minute Maid into frozen shows they are more than just a soda or juice brand, respectively.
In Japan, the company started offering Coca-Cola Frozen Lemon Squeezable Pouches four years ago. And in 2016, after working for two decades to create a super-cold, slushy drink, it rolled out Arctic Coke machines in convenience stores that allow shoppers to create offerings like a Fairlife milkshake from a bottle of the ultrafiltered milk or a Sprite loaded with ice crystals. (Coca-Cola has since removed the machines from the market. While the company did not give a reason for the decision, a spokesperson said it was not due to a lack of consumer interest in frozen beverages.)
Frozen drinks not only help Coca-Cola attract new, younger consumers into its liquid offerings but they also increase the times when an individual might try one of its beverages.
Frozen coffee, for example, is consumed throughout the year and is a draw among consumers of all ages, including millennials and Gen Z, Rebecca Johnson, senior manager of category marketing for frozen beverages at Coca-Cola, said in an email. Coca-Cola also noted that with frozen beverages often purchased in the afternoon or evening as a refreshing treat, it could help bring a typical morning drink like coffee into other parts of the day.
"We sell a lot of Coke, but we have to focus on where the consumers are going and where they're going to be. Frozen is not the largest [segment at Coca-Cola], but we definitely think that's the pathway toward recruiting the next generation."
Group director, foodservice channels, North America, The Coca-Cola Co.
In other cases, an individual may not always want bubbles but still crave a cold and refreshing drink. To keep consumers coming back, Coca-Cola regularly debuts offerings with new flavors — often for a limited time like its current Fanta Blueberry Vanilla.
This summer, Coca-Cola is promoting a pair of popular frozen lines made under two of its popular brands, Minute Maid Classic Lemonade and Gold Peak Southern Sweet Tea, that consumers have frequently combined to create an Arnold Palmer drink.
Coca-Cola also is working on a limited promotion aimed at teens called What the Fanta. The offering includes a variety of mystery flavors in multiple formats — frozen slushie, Freestyle drinks and a 20-ounce bottled drink whose color doesn't match its flavor.
The beverage company also is experimenting with different textures. Melinda Pritchett, director of category strategy and innovation at Coca-Cola, said in an email the company is exploring ways to incorporate nitrogen into its frozen drinks instead of the customary CO2 to create a smooth and velvety texture — a practice she said has the effect of "completely changing the frozen beverage experience."
Convenience stores, which have a younger core demographic, are a popular testing ground for the new frozen products.
According to a 2019 Statista survey, 17.5% of younger millennials between the ages of 18 and 27 stopped daily in convenience stores versus 18.3% of those between 28 and 36 years of age. This compares to only 6.7% of Baby Boomers.
Frozen offerings are a lucrative opportunity for convenience stores with their high-profit margins, minimal footprint and generally low maintenance.
Johnson noted that slushies are the most profitable category in the channel because the frozen beverage requires extra air, meaning less of the flavoring is needed — a ratio that helps boost profits. The beverage is also a popular draw among younger customers, with 68% of Gen Z and 46% of millennials drinking slushies, according to Coca-Cola data. She noted additional information from Gongos Research showing only 19% of consumers stick to the same flavors every visit.
Coca-Cola isn't the only soda maker to delve into frozen.
PepsiCo has Mtn Dew and its namesake cola in frozen, along with trendier flavors like Siberian Chill Strawberry Kiwi, Orange Cream and Dragons Blood through a partnership with Unique Beverage. Jones Soda, known for its quirky flavors like Blue Bubblegum, Pineapple Cream and Turkey-and-Gravy, also created a Mango Melon flavor for frozen beverage treats maker Icee to sell at mass merchandisers, convenience stores and quick-service restaurants.
The further expansion by these and other companies, especially through alcoholic offerings, is forecast to contribute to growth in the global frozen drinks market. Data Bridge Market Research predicted the market would increase at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% between 2021 and 2028.