This August marked the one-year anniversary of one of the biggest (and greenest) F&B launches of recent years – yes, Coca-Cola Life has come of age…. sort of. To mark the occasion, this week Rich has been talking to Marketing Week about how it's done so far.
Sales have been solid if not remarkable. Yet, the brand has been hit by widespread criticism for trying to come across as natural and healthy while still containing a positively unhealthy amount of sugar (10 teaspoons per 600ml bottle). Coke have protested – this was never their intention – ‘We don't attempt to market Coca Cola or any of our products as a health drink… We are under no illusions we are operating in that space'. So said Group Marketing Manager Dianne Everett when the brand was launched.
Here in The Clearing, it's made us think about the relationship between brands, consumers, marketing and public health. What role do we expect food and beverage businesses to play? And what opportunities do these businesses have to shifting society while keeping shareholders happy?
Consumers: In search of the good life
There's no doubt that in recent years, we've seen a shift towards a more health-conscious society. Year-on-year, in the UK we're eating more fruit & veg, cooking more from scratch, and checking more carefully and consciously to see exactly what goes into our food. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a trend reflected in Coke's declining sales figures – both here and in their United States homeland, traditional carbonated soft drinks just don't hold the appeal they used to.
And it's not just all about health. Consumers are now more demanding of F&B (and indeed, all) brands than ever before. In our eyes, brands have to be authentic, they have to be responsible, and they have to stand for something bigger and more meaningful than the total of their ingredients. To give just one example: 87% of global consumers believe business should place equal weight on societal as well as corporate issues.
Business: A genuine opportunity
For business, this shift is an opportunity. To sum it up, in a recent speech Unilever's boss in Europe, Jan Zijderveld, said this: ‘Consumers want brands that stand for something… what we find is when we do this with our brands they grow twice as fast as those who don't have sustainability at the heart… That's where the juice is, the pockets of growth'.
But are brands currently doing enough to capitalise on this opportunity? According to recent research by Mintel, only 7% of us think you can trust the health claims on food & drink packaging, whilst 44% believe many products make health claims without scientific proof.
Clearly the authenticity, transparency and purpose we crave isn't always being delivered – or at least not in the right way.
Whether we're standing in the supermarket or sitting in the pub, when it comes to deciding what we eat and drink, taste will always be of the utmost importance. But, increasingly, for marketers to rely on this on its own just isn't enough. At least not enough to deliver significant levels of commercial growth. Today, brands need to be more authentic, transparent and honest in the way they position themselves and communicate their ingredients. And they need to stand for something bigger and more meaningful than the sum of their parts. For Coca-Cola, Coke Life is clearly a step in the right direction. But, when it comes to assessing its long term impact – on both the brand and society – the jury's still out.
Stephen Lang is Senior Consultant at The Clearing