Coca-Cola knows what flavors you like to mix together at the soda fountain. Now it’s bottling your favorite.
Starting next week, Cherry Vanilla Coca-Cola and a Zero Sugar version will be available for purchase in cans and bottles. The flavor was inspired by the many customers who mix Cherry and Vanilla Coke at Coca-Cola’s Freestyle soda fountains.
The latest flavor is another in a string of innovations within the classic Coca-Cola brand. Recently, the company launched Coke Energy in the United States. Internationally, it has rolled out a Coke With Coffee line, which could one day make its way to American customers. And last year, it launched a new Orange Vanilla variety.
People are increasingly reaching for drinks that serve a functional purpose, such as offering a nutritional benefit or a boost of energy. Regular sodas are off-trend.
To keep people interested and make sure that they don’t abandon the traditional Coke brand, Coca-Cola is trying to make it attractive to both diehard fans and casual drinkers with new flavors and functional varieties.
Mix and match
To develop and launch new products, Coca-Cola relies on its insights into consumer preferences. Freestyle, the company’s soda fountain machine, offers a detailed look at what people like.
Coca-Cola has about 51,000 Freestyle machines, and all of them are connected on a single digital platform. Coca-Cola’s team gets regular updates from the machines: What is being poured at what time of day, which flavors are popular and how many ounces are dispensed, among other things. It doesn’t have data on individual people’s drinking habits.
The beverage company can use that information to highlight popular flavors on different screens. For example, a Freestyle machine in Atlanta might have a different display than one in St. Louis based on what people are drinking in each city.
It can also use the data to bring new flavors, such as Cherry Vanilla Coke, to market.
“We’re always looking at multiple ways to vet and learn more about what consumers are looking for,” said Coke Brand Director Oana Vlad. “Freestyle is not our only way of getting that information, but it’s definitely one of our favorite ways.”
Cherry Vanilla Coke is the most popular hybrid drink across Freestyle machines, according to the company’s data. That insight made it clear that there was an audience for the new flavor, Vlad noted.
Revitalizing the Coke brand
For years, Coca-Cola had stopped introducing new flavors under the core Coca-Cola brand. Orange Vanilla Coke was the first new permanent flavor since 2007.
Since then, “there has been an acceleration overall in innovation for the Coke trademark,” said Vlad. “We want to make sure that there is a beverage for everyone. We’re focusing on offering more choice.”
Before James Quincey became CEO of Coca-Cola in May 2017, he announced the goal of turning Coca-Cola into a “total beverage company” that sells everything from cola to coffee to milk.
“The company needs to be bigger than the core brand,” he said during an analyst presentation in February of that year. But, he added, the company’s classic cola brand “will always be the heart and soul of the Coca-Cola company.”
Adding new product lines under the Coke brand is a way to help achieve Quincey’s goal, Vlad noted.
In addition to introducing new flavors, Coca-Cola is investing in marketing the new concepts to customers.
A Super Bowl ad featuring Jonah Hill and Martin Scorsese helped introduce Coke Energy to American drinkers. Coca-Cola is planning a marketing push for Cherry Vanilla around March Madness through its partnership with the NCAA.