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Fairlife, dubbed “Milka-Cola” on twitter, is the latest addition in Coca-Cola’s attempt to invest in healthier drinks as consumers cut down on carbonates, which constitute over half of Coca-Cola’s sales. The milk drink is the epitome of on-trend: twice the protein and calcium compared to whole milk, half the sugar, lactose-free, sustainably produced and even the bottles are recyclable. Yet here is the catch; for a global brand that relies heavily on its long-established image, will consumers believe in a healthy milk drink that is supported by one of the world’s largest producers of drinks that have been criticised as less than healthy?

Why look for alternative drinks?

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Looking at the categories in which Coca-Cola has a presence in North America, two thirds of its sales come from carbonates and juices, which have been underperforming as consumers cut down on sugary drinks. As such, over the years Coca-Cola has moved into sport drinks, reduced calorie options such as Coca-Cola Life and now milk is its next step.

In fact when looking at similar products that are positioned around high protein, lactose-free, and low-calorie, sales have been booming in North America as US consumers have flocked towards products which promise satiety or alternative, lactose-free products, as some studies suggest that lactose can be linked to digestive problems. Non-dairy milk alternatives, yoghurt and fortified flavoured milk have all show strong growth rates, with CAGRs above 5% over 2009-2014, yet Coca-Cola’s presence in these categories is negligible, whilst its presence in stagnant categories such as juices and carbonates is high.

The Coca-Cola Dilemma: Moving its Share into Faster Growing Categories

Source: Euromonitor International

Non-dairy milk alternatives to generate US$1.5 billion over 2014-2019

Non-dairy milk alternatives and fortified flavoured milk drinks are both positioned around higher protein levels, as well as lactose-free dairy products. Protein has many health benefits of which an important one is satiety, as well as muscle recovery. Lactose on the other hand has been linked by some studies to digestive health problems, whether this is scientifically true or not, consumers are actively seeking to avoid lactose – including a growing number who are not lactose-intolerant. Therefore the market Coke is investing in is booming and non-dairy milk drinks alone are expected to generate an additional US$1.5 billion over 2014-2019 in just North-America, enough to cover half of Coke’s advertising expenditure in 2013.

Image is everything

For a global company like Coca-Cola, branding is integral to the company’s success and unsurprisingly US$3.3 billion was spent on advertising in 2013. So in terms of creating brand awareness for Fairlife, its heavily-invested marketing campaigns ought to spread the word loud and fast. Yet the question remains whether consumers will believe in the credibility of a healthy milk drink that is supported by Coca-Cola. In fact, a painful reminder is its failed attempt to sell what has been dubbed “bottled tap water” under the Dasani brand back in 2004 in the UK. The company was accused of supposedly selling tap water in a fancy bottle. Coca-Cola defended the brand and said they had been misunderstood, and the drink was not just tap water but the result of a sophisticated process to create the purest drinking water using tap water as its source.

Therefore, for a global brand like Coca-Cola, any negative association can cause serious harm, so perhaps distancing itself from Fairlife the brand which brand to avoid negative word-of-mouth is the way forward.

Turning a niche product into a mass one – can it work?

Should Coca-Cola be successful in launching a healthy milk product, it could perform well, as there is certainly demand for a product like Fairlife. Yet its marketing campaigns now are very much focused on being better, bigger and more natural than competing products. Marketing modesty and simplicity instead might help in convincing the consumer to believe in the purity of the product which started off as a niche concern. In terms of turning niche into mass, there is a danger that the high number of product launches claiming increased levels of protein at the moment will turn a unique selling point of today into the industry norm of tomorrow and therefore lose its edge.

Having said that, staying ahead of the game is what Coca-Cola does best, and Fairlife is being promoted as a lifestyle product rather than just a milk drink. If any company stands a chance at turning ordinary drinking milk into a cool new healthy dairy beverage for the masses, it is likely to be Coca-Cola.

 

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