Coke To Unveil Midcalorie Drink

Atlanta | Updated: Mar 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Coca-Cola could put a new midcalorie cola on the market by early summer, using the name C2.

Cokes entrant in the fledgling midcalorie category would have half the calories and carbohydrates of Coke Classic. Speculation about the name of the soft drink, which has been in the works under the secret Project Freedom, was reported by the trade publication Beverage Digest.

Coca-Cola declined to confirm or deny the report, offering only another version of a purposefully vague statement the company sometimes provides when word of a new product leaks out.

Innovation is a part of everything were doing, said spokesman Dan Schafer, and were always looking for ways to strengthen and expand the franchise.

Soft drink makers are betting that midcalorie sodas will be popular with people who want to cut sugar and carbs but arent that interested in diet drinks
The arrival of a new midcalorie brand, however, would come as little surprise.

It has been a bit more than two weeks since Pepsi confirmed plans for its own midcalorie brand, called Pepsi Edge. The product will have roughly half the calories and carbs of regular Pepsi.

While Pepsi surged ahead of Coke in verifying its own long-rumored plans, Coca-Cola appears to be targeting an earlier launch in the marketplace.

Beverage Digest reported that C2if that ends up being the final name, and if Coke goes ahead with the productcould debut in June, with promotions starting around July 4.

Pepsi Edge is expected to go to market in late summer.

The new midcalorie category is of much interest in the US soft drink business, thanks in large part to widespread worries over obesity.

Soft drink makers are betting that midcalorie sodas will be popular with people who want to cut sugar and carbs but arent that interested in diet drinks.

The idea behind midcalorie beverages is to develop a drink without the aftertaste of a diet drink. Pepsi Edge will aim at accomplishing this goal with a mixture of high-fructose corn syrup and Splenda, an artificial sweetener.

Beverage Digest reported the C2 name could be a way to market the product as a different version of Coke.

The success of such products, however, is far from certain. Mr Bill Pecoriello, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, said in a report that it is unclear whether these drinks will help increase overall soft drink sales. While many consumers are clearly looking for opportunities to consume fewer calories, its quite possible that a new lower-calorie cola will simply cannibalise existing full-calorie and zero-calorie options, Mr Pecoriello said.

Mr John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, said midcalorie colas could offset declines in sales of regular colas. If they do that and if diets continue to grow, the midcals could enhance the growth of the category and help the cola segment, he said. I do not believe they will cannibalise diet sodas. With a 50 per cent calorie reduction, they will appeal to regular consumers wanting fewer calories, not to most diet drinkers who want none.

Dr Pepper/Seven Up, the US unit of Cadbury Schweppes, has also been considering a midcalorie soft drink.

Beverage Digest reported that Coke might try a midcalorie cola in Asia before the United States.

SCOTT LEITH / NY TIMES