Coca-Cola accused of ‘greenwashing’ with launch of sugar-reduced Coke Life
Coca-Cola has launched a spin-off to its best-selling drink in an attempt to claw back increasingly health-conscious consumers, dismaying health experts who say it is still sugar-laden.
The soft drink behemoth says Coca-Cola Life, packaged in bright green, has 35 per cent less sugar and fewer kilojoules than the enduring original because of its use of a plant extract, stevia, a sugar substitute.
But health campaigners said the reduction to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 600ml bottle made little difference in terms of health impacts.
“What we’d like to see is a cutback of promotions, particularly through sport, and remove it from schools”:
Coca-Cola’s local marketing director, Lisa Winn, said Coca-Cola Life was a win for consumers who want the full-sugar taste without the artificial sweeteners found in Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero. It is only the fourth drink to be launched in the trademark’s 128-year history.
“This product is for balance seekers. They tend to be adults who are reducing their soft drink intake because of concerns around sugar, but they’re not wanting to go for the Diet Coke and Coke Zero because they have a different taste.
“Coke Life tastes as close as possible to regular Coke.”
She said Coca-Cola Life, first piloted in Argentina and Chile in 2013, would help meet its commitment to help tackle Australia’s obesity crisis.
Three in five adults and one in four children in Australia are overweight or obese, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.
Jane Martin, of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said there was hardly any difference between the original Coke and Coke Life.
“They are still high sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages. This product is no different in that respect,” she said.
“There is no commitment to stopping the promotion of the full sugar brands, the business is still basically the same, and what we’d like to see is a cutback of promotions, particularly through sport, and remove it from schools.”
Professor Amanda Lee of Queensland University of Technology, and former chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Dietary Guidelines Working Committee, said the $10 million launch was an example of “greenwashing”.
“It reminds me of the stage we were up at 30 years ago when manufacturers were making healthy cigarettes. I’m worried, it’s trying to make a product that’s intrinsically unhealthy, healthy,” she said.
“There’s a high risk that many consumers could be confused, thinking that it’s a low-energy option when it’s not.”
Professor Mike Daube, public health expert at Curtin University, said the long line of “light”, “mild” and “low-sugar” product launches across the junk food, alcohol and cigarette markets left him sceptical about Coca-Cola’s claims that it wants to help tackle Australia’s obesity problems.
“The companies always seem to end up going back to their core products, but trying to look responsible and health-conscious along the way,” he said.
Ms Winn also hopes Coca-Cola Life will reverse soft sales in Australia by creating a “halo effect”. Coca-Cola Amatil suffered a sales fall of 2 per cent and a net profit loss of 25 per cent in 2014.
Industry tracker Beverage Digest recently reported American consumers bought fewer carbonated soft drinks for the 10th straight year. Pepsi overtook Diet Coke to regain the number two spot in 2014.
“When they launched Coke Life in the UK last year, it created a halo around the whole trademark, lifting sales across all the product. Sales for the four to five months after launching, were up 4.9 per cent for the whole trademark,” she said.
Geoff Parker, chief executive of industry group the Australian Beverages Council, said Coca-Cola was responding to consumer demands for greater and healthier options.
“We know consumers are asking for more choice and particularly stevia sweetened beverages,” he said. “Coke Life is an innovation that is expected to really excite the category and draw people into the soft drink category.”
Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.