Coca-Cola’s new lower calorie range is a ‘clear marketing ploy’ to dress up a high-sugar beverage as healthy, experts have warned.
Coke Life, which launches in Australia in early April in vibrant green cans and bottles, may actually trick consumers into drinking more calories, not less.
The soft drink is 6.6 per cent sugar, compared to the 10.6 per cent in a full-sugar Coke, but this does not make it healthy, said Cancer Council Australia public health expert Craig Sinclair.
“It’s still delivering a high volume of sugar per serve,” Mr Sinclair said.
“Clearly, Coke is trying to position the product as part of a healthier range when what’s contained inside, on any interpretation, is clearly not healthy.”
The product is sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia leaf extract, a plant native to South America, and will be available in all the sizes of normal Coke.
The danger is that health-conscious, zero-calorie drink buyers could switch to Coke Life, thus upping their daily dose of sugar.
Or that someone who normally consumes a single can of full sugar coke might switch to two cans of Coke Life, thinking they are justified in doing so, increasing their health risks.
These are the claims of Australian Catholic University public health researcher Professor Sandra Jones, who cited research that consumers perceive the colour green as healthier.
“There is also a lot of research around suggesting that if you present something as healthy, people eat more of it,” Prof Jones said.
Because Coke Life has 35 per cent less sugar than normal Coke, it could have benefits for some people, but only if it prompts “straight swaps” of full sugar for lower-sugar, she said.
“If it creates the impression in consumers’ minds that this is a relatively healthy product, and therefore they can consume more of it, then it’s not a good outcome.”
Coca-Cola Amatil has denied that Coke Life’s packaging is designed to make it appear healthy.
“We are not claiming this is a health product,” spokeswoman Sarah Kelly told The New Daily.
“This is about offering consumers choice and extending our portfolio that we have available.
“We are always listening to our consumers to create new, innovative products that meet their needs.”
When explaining why the brand did not apply the green colour and words like ‘Life’ to its zero-sugar products, the spokeswoman said the intention was for Coke Life to “stand out”.
“We want Coca-Cola Life to stand out on the shelf next to our other Coca-Cola brands,” said Ms Kelly, giving the example of Coke Zero and Diet Coke.
It is irrelevant the company denies its packaging is a health-conscious ploy, Professor Jones said.
“If we know from consumer research the message people take away from it, that’s what is important.
“People around the world associate the colour green with things being natural and healthy, and that’s very well known by marketers.”