Coca-Cola defiant as Coke Life sales plummet

Coca-Cola Life sales more than halved in the first six months of 2016, but Coca-Cola insists the variant “was never intended to be more than a niche”.

Coca-Cola Life sales dropped by more than 50% in the first six months of 2016, just over a year since Coca-Cola’s ‘One Brand’ strategy was launched in the UK, which seeks to encourage more people to try the brand’s different variants.

Figures by Nielsen show UK Coca-Cola Life value sales for the six months ending 2 July 2016 were £5.6m, down 54.5% on the same period last year. In comparison, total UK Coca-Cola sales for the same period were £521m, 7.6% down on last year.

Coca-Cola Life was originally launched in 2014 to offer a lower calorie option for more health conscious consumers. It is the brand’s first cola sweetened from a blend of sugar and stevia plant extract and contains 45% less sugar and calories than the original Coca-Cola variant.

At the time of the launch, Coca-Cola Europe’s president James Quincey said: “[Coca-Cola Life] complements our existing brands and is well positioned to meet changing lifestyle trends, providing people with a great tasting, lower calorie cola sweetened from natural sources.”

However, it faced criticism from some quarters over its positioning as a ‘healthy’ product, with Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson going even further by stating the launch “spells the start of the end of Coca-Cola”.

Late last year, IRI figures showed that since the introduction of the new product in August 2014, the Life brand had grown into a £28.9m business, with analysts saying it has attracted a “small but loyal following”. Sales peaked in October 2014 after a period of heavy promotion, with value sales hitting £4.1m for the four weeks to 11 October.

Coca-Cola hopes that the new campaign will make consumers more aware of its lower or no sugar options.
Coca-Cola hopes that the ‘Taste the feeling’ campaign will make consumers more aware of its lower or no sugar options.

‘Not more than a niche’

Although Nielsen’s figures do not provide an indication of volume sales or levels of promotion, they suggest the value of the brand to Coca-Cola has declined dramatically.

Yet when questioned on Coca-Cola Life earlier this month, the brand’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland Bobby Brittain insisted the variant was never meant to be “more than a niche” and that Coca-Cola’s focus is on Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.

“Coke Life has carved itself out a very nice little niche. It was never intended to be more than that niche. Our COO James Quincey said in January that the ambition for Coke Life shouldn’t be overstated,” he told Marketing Week.

“The ambition for Coke Zero Sugar is a different dimension, as that’s where we’re investing and where we see our growth coming from. The adrenaline shot for the whole sector is coming through Coke Zero Sugar. We have never invested as much in the last decade. That’s a very bold statement of intent.”

READ MORE: Coca-Cola’s CMO explains why its ‘One Brand’ marketing strategy is going global

In order to fight declining sales, Coca-Cola launched its ‘One Brand’ strategy globally in January after piloting it in the UK the year before.

The strategy sees its four variants – Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Coca-Cola Life – marketed as part of the Coca-Cola ‘master brand’. It seeks to encourage people to try the different variants and thereby boost the brand. The company also launched a new campaign and slogan, ‘Taste the Feeling’. Nielsen’s figures show, however, that the strategy has not lifted sales for the Coca-Cola Life variant or the overall brand.

Since its launch, Coca-Coca Life has not been backed by any individual advertising campaigns – unlike some of the other variants. For example, during the Rugby World Cup tournament in September and October last year, Coca-Cola placed Coca-Cola Zero front and centre of its sponsorship.

At the time, Brittain told Marketing Week: “It’s unique in the sense that the One brand strategy frees up all of the individual variants to have their own time in the sun. For the first time people are seeing Coke Zero as the face of Coca-Cola. This is definitely Coke Zero’s time to shine.”



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