Coca-Cola is giving its zero-calorie Diet Coke brand a makeover with an updated look, a taller and slimmer can and four new flavors. After 35 years, the Atlanta-based beverage company said it's re-energizing and modernizing its top-selling diet beverage for a new generation of consumers. The taste of plain Diet Coke will not change. The new flavors and look will appear on store shelves later this month.
Coke's R&D team tested more than 30 flavor combinations during a two-year period and finally settled on four that received the most positive consumer responses: Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango. The new flavors will be sweetened with acesulfame potassium — known as Ace-K — which is said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar, so less is required. Regular Diet Coke will continue to be sweetened with aspartame.
"Throughout this relaunch journey, we wanted to be bold, think differently and be innovative in our approach," Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America’s group director for Diet Coke, said in a release. "And most importantly, we wanted to stay true to the essence of Diet Coke while recasting the brand for a new generation."
It's not surprising that Coca-Cola is revamping Diet Coke's flavor profile and image — a 36-year old drink that has seen its fortunes wane recently. Diet Coke sales have fallen as consumers turn to water, tea and other beverages perceived as healthier. Local governments in Philadelphia and Berkeley, California, also have contributed to the decline in soda consumption by levying taxes on the beverage.
To bolster profits, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have started using smaller bottles and cans, which have been popular with shoppers and allowed the soda companies to charge more per ounce. According to Fortune, dollar sales grew in 2016 by about 2% to $80.6 billion because Coke and other big soft drink makers marketed smaller packages at higher price points and focused less on larger discount packs.
Diet Coke's new can isn't mini, but its taller, slimmer shape could be an attractive novelty for consumers — and one that caters to shoppers' love of premium packaging. The can's design mimics the shape and size of Dasani Sparkling water products and is meant to convey a more modern feel, according to James Sommerville, vice president of Coca-Cola Global Design.
"With a brand recast, designers are challenged with determining how far is too far, and how close is not far enough," he said in a release. "We set out to demonstrate progressive change and innovation with a look that would appeal to a consumer seeking bolder flavors, but without alienating the loyal Diet Coke fan base."
Adding new flavors and a sleek redesign is a proven way for beverage makers to differentiate themselves from competitors and keep customers coming back. While the public may come to rely on a brand's consistent appearance and performance, they also like to see new products and updated packaging on occasion. Last summer, Coca-Cola's Fanta introduced a new spiral bottle that looks as if it's been twisted by hand.
Coke's extension of the Diet Coke brand could help breathe new life into the diet soda, which has suffered from consumer rejection of artificial sweeteners. It also may cater to millennial demand for experimental flavor combinations.
The risk is that Diet Coke may suffer the same fate as prior product overhauls. In early 2009, PepsiCo rolled out a new carton design for its popular Tropicana orange juice as part of a broader effort to improve the marketing for some of its biggest brands. Just six weeks after the debut, PepsiCo scrapped the redesign and went back to the classic look. Consumers were complaining it made the product look generic and made it hard for them to differentiate the kind of juice that was inside the package. Sales plunged 20% after the change.
And while beverage variations like these may seem a little too out-there for the average consumer, it could help brands stand out from the crowd. Like any other retail products, beverages have limited shelf space — whether in a store on online — and only a few seconds to draw a shopper's attention before a purchase decision is made or rejected. An initial impression of bold colors, intriguing flavor profiles and an on-trend packaging design can be key factors toward bolstering sales.
Coke is taking a big gamble adding new flavors to one of the world's most popular soda brands and using different artificial sweetener to make the four new varieties. Time will tell if health-conscious consumers are intrigued by this new Diet Coke. One thing Coca-Cola was smart to do was not change the formula of its classic Diet Coke. If the company learned anything in the mid-1980s, changing the taste of an iconic drink like it did to its Coke beverage can lead to public outrage and a sharp drop in sales.