Coke bets on stevia to sweeten sales

It's rolling out the plant-based sweetener in its new Coca-Cola Life in Argentina. Will consumers give the formula a try?

By Jonathan Berr Jun 28, 2013 10:43AM
A bottle of Coca Cola is displayed at a market on April 16, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Coca-Cola (KO) has a bigger challenger in the cola war than rival PepsiCo (PEP): public indifference. Per-capita soda consumption has plummeted for years and recently hit a more than two-decade low, which is why Coke's roll-out of a stevia-sweetened product in Argentina called Coca-Cola Life is attracting so much attention.

The company has used stevia, a zero-calorie sweetener derived from a plant native to Paraguay, in 45 products, including Vitaminwater Zero and Fanta Select but never in cola, according to Reuters. PepsiCo already sells a cola called Pepsi Next in Australia that's sweetened with sugar and stevia much like Coca Cola Life, according to Beverage Digest's John Sicher. Pepsi's U.S. variant of the cola uses Aspartame and Acesulfame potassium, two high-intensity sweeteners.

Sicher believes blending sugar and stevia "may work pretty darn well," as he told MSN Money in an interview.

Coca-Cola executives likened the launch of Coca Cola Life, which has half the calories of regular Coke, with the successful 2005 debut of Coke Zero. But there are many reasons to be skeptical about Coca Cola Life.
For one thing, as Reuters noted, newly introduced lower-calorie sodas such as Pepsi Next and Dr Pepper 10 aren't selling well. The other is the unrelenting pressure from activists such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest to get people to drink less soda because it's high in calories and devoid of any nutritional value.

The outlook for soda is grim unless there's a "breakthrough" in sweetener technology, Reuters quotes PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi telling a conference earlier this year. PepsiCo is working on what it calls a "beverage innovation project," though it isn't clear what that means.

"If you let this go too long, another three or five years, the consumer will walk away" from carbonated soft drinks, Reuters quoted her as saying.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jun 28, 2013 1:44PM
Does Bacardi count as a sweetener ;)
Jun 28, 2013 3:48PM
No common sense.  Why can't they just use good old cane sugar?
Why do we keep playing with the health destruction from under-studied synthetic and derivative sweetners. 

Oh yes --- we are going to pretend to be on a diet while drinking that crap and eating fries, cheeseburgers, and/or salads with dressings containing hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn-syrup.

In the meantime, the Senate passes an immigration bill with a national biometric identification mandate which will eventually be mandatory for everyone to do anything.

Jun 28, 2013 5:58PM
There is a huge difference between splenda and stevia. Stevia has a much better after taste hands down. Been using stevia for three years for everything and have dropped 31 LBS. NO KIDDING !
Jun 28, 2013 12:00PM

I drink the Coke sweetened with Splenda, yet never see that particular one mentioned.  Wonder why?


Jun 28, 2013 11:53AM
I can't have sugar so I can only drink sodas that are sweetened with only stevia and/or erythritol! They need to make that product and then I believe there sales would get better. Currently they aren't attracting people like me because there product still has sugar and they probably aren't attracting the other side that can have sugar because they will just keep drinking the diet drinks they already enjoy or the full sugar options.
Jun 28, 2013 3:57PM

Virtually every soft drink in the U.S. is sweetened with HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. This ingredient is in hundreds of other products. WHY? Because it is the healthiest choice for the citizen consumer? NO--because it's the cheapest way "food and drink" corporations can flavor their products. HFCS is a killer. Just look at the obesity epidemic which skyrocketed after it's introduction into our food supply. The AMA just recently came out with a strong statement--"Avoid fructose" It got little media fanfare.

As it's always been--Corporations and the corn lobby don't give a darn about your health or mine. They only care about making a profit.

My personal advice--don't buy anything with HFCS in it's ingredient list.

Jun 28, 2013 4:32PM

Cyclamates got a raw deal in the 1960s.  Maybe we should give it another look.

Jun 28, 2013 6:16PM
I bought Stevia and almost barfed at the after taste and threw the entire box in the trash.
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