Sugar-free success: Coca-Cola enjoys 25 percent growth for Sprite on Dutch relaunch, two countries to follow

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06 Mar 2018 --- In March 2017, the Netherlands became the very first country in which Coca-Cola revamped Sprite as a completely no-sugar and no-calorie soft drink. According to the company, the target group wants less sugar and more choice in low-calorie and no-calorie soft drinks. In the past year, Sprite played an important role in satisfying this demand. One year after its reintroduction, there is an excellent match between supply and demand. Last year, Sprite realized volume growth of 4.4 percent (Ex-factory week 11 – week 52, 2017).

Thanks to the new formula, the company claims that over 900,000kg of sugar has been removed from our products and a total reduction of 4.2 billion kilocalories has been achieved. At the same time, extensive taste tests among Dutch consumers show that the no-sugar, no-calorie version of Sprite is just as tasty as the traditional sugared version. Over one million Dutch households have purchased the new Sprite since its relaunch: an increase of 25 percent compared with the previous year (GfK, Relaunch Tracker P1 2018). A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Netherlands confirmed that two other countries in Western Europe will follow shortly, but the names of these countries are yet to be revealed.

Kirsten van Zandwijk at Coca-Cola Netherlands tells FoodIngredientsFirst that they are not overly surprised by the success of the reformulation. “Zeros’ are growing in our overall portfolio, so we know that this proposition fits consumer preferences. The tasting test results of the renewed Sprite were very positive, so we were convinced of the new proposition of the product before taking it to market. But it’s always exciting; how will the consumers react? Will they still love the taste? We are very happy with the results so far and with the introduction of the new flavor Sprite Cucumber, we will expand the success of Sprite even more,” she says, alluding to a new launch (see below).

In line with this development, Coca-Cola has fully committed itself to boosting the sustainability of its product range. For example, last month, the Fanta Orange recipe was further improved to now contain 33kcal calories instead of 48 per 100ml.

Van Zandwijk says: “We managed to reduce sugar in Fanta orange; the product now contains 33kcal instead of 48kcal per 100ml, without compromising on taste. Going to a zero sugar proposition – with the same consumer test results on taste – is not possible yet. We keep on testing and innovating, to reduce sugar in our total portfolio. For Fanta lovers that don’t want to take any sugar, there is Fanta Zero Sugar (5 of our of 10 Fanta variants are zero sugar in the NL).”

The move comes as part of Coca-Cola's sustainability action plan “This is Forward,” which contains a variety of ambitious sustainability objectives applicable to the entire Coca-Cola Nederland product range. Social involvement, recycling, and further reduction of sugar are central themes in this action plan. For example, by 2025, 50 percent of the sales volume in Western Europe must consist of low-calorie or no-calorie drinks, according to the targets.

One year ago, Coca-Cola Nederland announced a world-first by introducing Sprite as a no-sugar and no-calorie soft drink. And, according to the company it's no coincidence that the Netherlands has taken on this pioneering role. This initiative is a response to a widely expressed demand among the Dutch public for less sugar and fewer calories: a demand that is being increasingly catered to by manufacturers. As well as the soft drinks industry, confectionery manufacturers, food producers, and the biggest supermarket chains in the Netherlands have also announced plans to reduce the sugar in their products.

Click to EnlargeMarian Geluk, director of the FNLI (Netherlands Foodstuffs Industry Federation) discussed the development: “The success of the new, improved Sprite is a great boost. Successfully reducing the calories of food and drink without losing quality is a complex and risky challenge. Will consumers accept the change? The fact that Dutch consumers are buying no-calorie Sprite just as often or even more than before is a great encouragement to all manufacturers to continue their efforts in reducing calories.”

Margreet van Staalduijnen, Sprite Brand Manager in the Netherlands, notes the Netherlands' role as a pioneer: “Sprite's success shows that the Netherlands is a pioneering country and is fully capable of inspiring other markets. This success has not gone unnoticed on the international stage, with other countries following suit. It's great to see, and of course, we are keen to support these countries with our experience and insight.”

Dutch consumers certainly like to make sustainable choices, but they also have very varied tastes. For this reason, Sprite offers variety not only in flavor (lemon and lime, mint, cranberry) but also in packaging sizes. On March 26, 2018, a refreshing new flavor will be launched: Sprite with a Twist of Cucumber. The company will also be offering Sprite Cranberry in 250ml bottles.
News of the reformulation success comes just one month from the much-debated sugar tax coming into effect in the UK on April 6, 2018.

Van Zandwijk stresses that the company’s position on this is “We don’t believe in an ingredient tax for soda’s only.”

“We believe in giving the consumer choice in great tasting zero sugar products. Our ambition is to have 50 percent sales volume out of low/now cal products by 2025 (Western Europe ambition). So, in the Netherlands, 75 percent of the marketing budget we spend are on zero sugar products. Last year, 17 out of our 17 new introductions were low or no cal, this year that will be 21. We keep on innovating to serve the consumers with great sugar-free options, without compromising on taste,” she concludes.

Sprite is a carbonated soft drink manufactured by The Coca-Cola Company. The drink was first launched in 1961 in the US. It has since grown to become one of the world's largest and best-known brands of soft drink. Sprite is colorless, and the original version has a lemon and lime flavor. The first mint-flavored variety of Sprite was launched in 2002 and was first made available in the Netherlands in 2016.

By Robin Wyers

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