Summer, sun and fun with the new
Coca-Cola Life


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2015)

Imagine a warm summer breeze whispering past your face, your feet dipping into cool water – the only thing missing for this to be a perfect day is a delicious coke with ice. For many, Coca-Cola is a cult, a drink that stands for absolute freedom and which we particularly crave during the hottest months of the year. Now, the Coke family has grown. We spoke to Christoph Isenbürger, Marketing Director of Coca-Cola GmbH, Germany, about the latest offspring.

Mr Isenbürger, what does the new Coca-Cola Life stands for? What message does it carry?

Christoph Isenbürger: The youngest member of the Coke family is an invitation to enjoy one’s own life with a new, low-calorie Coca-Cola, which is sweetened with stevia extract and therefore contains about a third less sugar.

What is the difference in taste compared to the classic Coke? 

C. I.: This new variety contains, just like classic Coke, sweeteners from natural sources only, i.e. sugar and stevia extract and natural flavours. Both products ‒ Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Life ‒ have the typical refreshing taste one expects from Coca-Cola.

What exactly is stevia? 

C. I.: Stevia is a plant that originated in Paraguay. It belongs to the same family as chrysanthemum and camomile. In South America, it has been cultivated for two centuries and has always been used for sweetening. In a process similar to the brewing of tea, dried stevia leaves are soaked in water to release the best tasting ingredient of the leaf. The stevia extract (steviol glycoside) is then purified without changing the molecule that gives it its sweetness. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this sweetener? 

C. I.: As Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with stevia extract, it contains 37 percent less sugar and has thus more than a third fewer calories than a regular Coke. Stevia extract, just like sugar, is of natural origin and has a certain intrinsic taste. It is best used in combination with other sweeteners. Therefore, Coca-Cola Life contains both stevia extract and sugar.

For you as a soft drink company, what potential does stevia have for you? 

C. I.: Thanks to stevia extract, we have the ability to offer our customers an even greater variety of beverages. Coca-Cola is currently using stevia sweetener worldwide in more than 45 products in over 15 countries. There, the stevia sweetener is always used in combination with other sweeteners (for example with fruit juice, sugar and calorie-free or low-calorie sweeteners). 

Coca-Cola is inseparably bound to the colour red. Why did you choose green for your latest product? 

C. I.: Red is our classic Coke, black is for Zero, orange for Fanta. Tests with consumers have shown that they like green as the designating characteristic for the label. Coke Life is supposed to stand out from the other Cokes on the shelf. That is why we have developed a label that meets these requirements.

What effect are you hoping for the brand?  

C. I.: Coca-Cola Life is a real eye-catcher. The colour makes you curious and is very easily recognised.

How are consumers reacting to this change?  

C. I.: People are intrigued and happy about innovations. Coca-Cola Life has been embraced by both the media, retailers and consumers.

In your opinion, how strongly do people connect the colour red with your brand?  

C. I.: True, the red and white Coke logo is known all over the world. Combined with the curved Coke bottle, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, it has been one of the most successful product designs to date. Nevertheless, Coke fans have learned to distinguish well between the colours of their preferred Coke product thanks to our wide range. For fans of Coke Zero, black is the Coke colour, for fans of Coca-Cola Life it will be green.

When and where have you launched Coca Cola Life for the first time?  

C. I.: Coca-Cola Life was launched in Argentina and Chile in 2013, followed by the UK and Sweden in 2014. Germany is among the first dozen countries worldwide, where we have introduced Coca-Cola Life. 

Why was it only distributed in South America at the beginning?  

C. I.: Our products are marketed in different countries. Coca-Cola Zero, for example, was launched in Australia and Coca-Cola Life in South America. One reason to launch the product in the latter was certainly the traditional use of stevia as a sweetener in the region. 

Since when has it been available in Germany?  

C. I.: Coca-Cola Life has been widely available in the German retail sector since May this year. It was already being offered as early as February in selected catering markets.

Your classic, the original Coca-Cola was invented almost 130 years ago. You now offer over 3,500 different beverages. Where does the global cult surrounding the brand come from?  

C. I.: On May 8, 1886 John Stith Pemberton invented the formula for Coca-Cola in Atlanta, thus laying the foundation for what was to become a story of success. Until this day, quality and taste above all are important criteria for the success of our products. Coca-Cola is one of the world’s most recognised and valuable brands today. Obviously, that has to do with strong marketing. We have managed to develop a lasting love for the brand among consumers. Everyone knows Coca-Cola. After “OK” it is the best-known word in the world. Many people cherish personal moments with our product. We enforce these positive associations by initiating dialogue between the brand and the consumers, across digital and analogue channels.

How important are trends for your company? 

C. I.: Very important. Innovation has always been a constant driver of our company. This is our basic understanding: we want to be close to our consumers’ desires to understand and set trends.

Which trends do you follow and how do you find them? 

C. I.: We monitor the wishes of our consumers attentively and base our decisions on these observations One example is Coca-Cola light: with the upcoming fitness wave in the USA, we launched the first calorie-free version of Coca-Cola in 1982. With Coca-Cola Life we now have a new low-calorie version on the market, which is sweetened exclusively with natural ingredients. We have once again reacted to the ever louder claim by consumers to live life consciously, in a balanced and enjoyable way.

How easily are Germans infected by new product ideas which might be hip in say America? 

C. I.: The Germans are very trend conscious. In the past, America was often “looked up to”, but in a globalised world trends are not as straight forward anymore. And that’s why we examine each market so closely to find out what our customers really want. 

What can German companies learn from the inventiveness of American industrial companies? 

C. I.: Definitely product marketing. And as long as this can be answered so generally: the belief that there is always an opportunity to pursue an idea. One simply needs the courage to do so.

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Christoph Isenbürger has long-standing marketing and management experience and has worked on both the agency and the corporate side for renowned international brands. He has been Marketing Director at Coca-Cola GmbH since 2015. Before that he was at Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency in Frankfurt am Main, from 2011 to 2014. Isenbürger has also held senior management positions as Marketing Director and Asia Pacific Marketing Director Europe at PUMA. He has also worked for Carat Munich, Nike Germany, Reemtsma Hungary and BBDO New York.

Picture credits © Coca-Cola Deutschland

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