Coca-Cola loses fizz to expand healthy drinks range

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-05 09:16
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Coca-Cola loses fizz to expand healthy drinks range

Bottles of Glaceau Vitaminwater move down a conveyor belt at a bottling plant in Hillside, New Jersey. China is the 14th market globally in which Coca-Cola has launched the high-end vitamin water. [Bloomberg] 

BEIJING: Coca-Cola Co, the world's largest beverage maker, has brought a dazzlingly colorful new range of drinks to the Chinese market.

With its iridescent bottles proclaiming fruit, vegetable and other nutritious contents, Glaceau Vitaminwater is proving to be a highly visible rival to energy drink Red Bull.

The drinks were unleashed on the public in Beijing and Shanghai late last year in a bid to corner the market in fashionable and health-conscious drinking.

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Sally Wang, a 23-year-old designer at an accessory company in Beijing, said: "I'm really excited that I'm able to enjoy the trendy drinks which have been featured as eye-catching accessories in the American hit series Gossip Girl."

Glaceau Vitaminwater represents a big leap in diversifying Coca-Cola's portfolio of non-carbonated drinks.

China is the 14th market globally in which Coca-Cola has launched the high-end vitamin water since it acquired Energy Brands Inc, more often known as Glaceau, for $4.1 billion in 2007 in a bid to satisfy the growing global demand for healthy thirst-quenchers.

"We choose to step into China's market mainly because of the growing market demand for low-calorie, high-nutrition, fashionable drink products in China," said Giannella Alvarez, vice-president of Glaceau International Business Unit, now part of Coca-Cola.

Statistics from China Investment Research Consultant showed that, in 2009, China's energy drink sales revenues reached 5 billion yuan, having increased more than 45 percent year-on-year.

Priced at about 15 yuan for a 500 ml bottle, Glaceau Vitaminwater comes in six flavors: Mega-c, Vital, Ignite, Multi-v, Restore and Triple-x.

Alvarez said the Multi-v, with its lemon flavor, was specially developed for Chinese consumers.

She said unlike other energy drinks, which concentrate on a narrow and specific consumer group, Glaceau Vitaminwater, with its absence of artificial flavors and preservatives, may have a wider appeal. The drinks are made with natural ingredients known for their nutritional value, such as guarana, a fruit-bearing climbing plant found mostly in Brazil.

Wendy Zhang, a white-collar worker for a UK-based company's Beijing branch, and also a fan of yoga, said: "It is pretty good that Coca-Cola is providing its customers with more and healthier choices. I am a fan of Coca Cola but I have also been wanting a healthy lifestyle for a while. The new Vitaminwater products are good enough for me to drink after my yoga training."

Expanding its footprint of non-carbonated beverages has borne fruit for Coca Cola. Glaceau Vitaminwater ranked top in sales in the energy drink sector in the US, Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand in 2009, according to the company.

However, observers in China have injected a note of caution. Chen Jing, a beverage analyst from Beijing-based Orient Agribusiness Consultant Ltd, which specializes in the food business, said the drink filled a vacuum in the high-end energy drink market but its relatively high cost may prove to be a deterrent.

Alvarez conceded the company would need to adjust the drink's promotion to reflect the Chinese market but added that its marketing so far had been revolutionary.

Bottles feature jokey messages to give the impression the company is talking to its consumers.

"You're writing minutes with your right hand and sending text messages with the left while the big boss is on the phone. Well, after drinking Multi-v, you will say 'bring it on!'," is one such slogan.

Instead of overwhelming TV advertising campaigns, Coca-Cola launched two so-called pop-up shops in Shanghai and Beijing to get close to potential consumers of Vitaminwater.

In the newly launched Glaceau Vitaminwater pop-up shop in Beijing, customers can indulge in body-painting and label-designing activities while at the same time sampling the vitamin water products.

"Everyone who touches it, everyone who drinks it and everyone who returns to drink it tells us their favorite flavor. And that is the best way for us to continue our innovative work," said Alvarez.

The Glaceau Vitaminwater is now available in high-end restaurants, cinemas, high-end supermarkets and gyms at Beijing's fashion landmarks. The focus is clear: to attract people with plenty of spending power.