Supermarkets are unable to sell green-branded Coke Life cans to retail staff even at a rockbottom price of 20 cents after remaining stock was quietly removed from Australian shelves.
A New South Wales Coles worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told The New Daily that high volumes of Coke Life had been on sale to employees at a significantly discounted price for about the past four months.
“There has been a heap of Coke Life in the staff room, heavily discounted, available to staff for purchase – reduced from $2.70 to 20 cents,” the Coles employee said.
“No one has touched it. Tastes terrible.”
She said leftover stock sold at a discount in the staff room would usually be “gone within two to three days”.
The reduced-calorie soft drink Coke Life launched in Australia in 2015, with 35 per cent less kilojoules than a classic Coke.
In Coca-Cola Amatil’s 2015 annual report, the introduction of Coca-Cola Life was dubbed the “biggest beverage launch in eight years”.
But within months, Coca-Cola had already begun experimenting with a new recipe to further reduce the product’s sugar content.
A Coca-Cola South Pacific spokesman told The New Daily that Coke Life had not been axed, as was widely reported, but “re-branded” as ‘Coke With Stevia’ was “not a new product” despite different branding and a new recipe to Coke Life.
A Coca-Cola Amatil report said: “… volume declines in the cola category were exacerbated by the cycling of the Coca-Cola Life launch in the first half of 2015.”
An Amatil spokesman said “cycling” referred to the period of intensive promotion that causes a boost in sales and that it was “common for a slight reduction in sales” once promotions are reduced.
Credit Suisse analysts estimated that in the early months after Coke Life’s launch, the soft drink giant sold seven million litres of the new drink over five weeks, almost half of their Coke Vanilla sales during the same period after its 2005 launch, Fairfax reported.
Coca-Cola Amatil’s full-year net profit dropped from $403 million in 2015 to $257 million in 2016.
Deakin University marketing lecturer Michael Callaghan told The New Daily the re-branded Coke With Stevia product would risk “cannibalising” its mainstay products Diet Coke and Coke Zero.
“I think Coke Life was a failure because most consumers deal with binary choices: sugar or no sugar, low fat or not, alcoholic or non-alcoholic,” he said.
“Coca-Cola is presenting this ‘continuum’ of choices and I don’t think that’s what consumers want.
“I think they were afraid of touting Coke Life too much because it could damage the sales of its other brands.”
While Coca-Cola has claimed it never intended for Coke Life to be a big hit, Mr Callaghan said company giants such as Coca-Cola would not launch a product nationwide if it did not have high hopes for the product’s success.
He said supermarkets ultimately decide what products get sold.
“If sales of a product don’t justify supermarket shelf space, then it will be more difficult for a company to negotiate with supermarkets to keep stocking the product.”
Coles refused to provide The New Daily a statement in response to questions about pricing and stocking of Coke Life since its launch. Woolworths failed to respond.
A Coca-Cola spokesman said Coke Life “performed to expectations” and that Coke With Stevia had hit the “right balance” between flavour and sugar content.
What is stevia?
A Coca-Cola spokesman said the company chose the new name to emphasise “stevia” and better communicate that it is a lower sugar option.
Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin described stevia as a type of sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar in flavour.
“While sweeteners like stevia contain almost no kilojoules, there is inconclusive evidence around the potential health impacts associated with artificial sweeteners,” Ms Martin told The New Daily.
Australians were becoming increasingly aware of the health impacts of high added sugar intake, she said.
“We’ve seen food and drink manufacturers respond to this by expanding their lower-sugar and sugar-free options.
“However, it seems that people are shifting to water rather than moving from full sugar to lower sugar drinks, like Coke Life.”