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Coca-Cola Will Soon Taste Sweeter, Report Says

April 23, 1985|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | Times Staff Writer

Soft-drink leader Coca-Cola Co., smarting from increased competition, is expected to announce today that it plans to make its flagship cola a little sweeter.

Beverage Digest, a trade publication, reported late Friday that Coca-Cola will change the type of corn syrup added to regular Coke to give the soft drink a smoother, sweeter taste. The new high-fructose corn syrup, called HFCS 90, will slightly increase the caloric content.

Coke officials refused to comment on the report Monday. They also declined to comment on industry speculation that the company might announce the U.S. introduction of its new Minute Maid brand fruit-juice soda.

Coca-Cola, which in 1984 held 36.4% of the soft-drink market and posted $7.4 billion in sales, would say only that today's announcement would be "the most significant soft-drink marketing development" in its 99-year history. However, the product has actually gone through several reformulations over the years.

Stock Closes Higher

Coca-Cola's stock closed Monday at $71.375 a share on the New York Stock Exchange, up 12.5 cents.

Industry observers said they doubted whether either a reformulation or the orange-drink introduction would have much long-term significance.

"I think it's just a great big hoopla that won't make a big difference over time," said Joseph J. Doyle, a beverage analyst at Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. in New York.

Pepsi spokesman Ken Ross said: "I think it's ironic that Coke has spent millions of dollars to knock Pepsi as being too sweet and now (they) turn around and make their own cola sweeter. This is a move of desperation . . . an admission that Coke is not the real thing."

Studies by trade publications have shown that Pepsi was the only major brand of cola to increase its market share last year.

Pepsico Inc., whose Pepsi subsidiary markets six Pepsi brands as well as Mountain Dew and Teem, held 25.6% of the soda market in 1984. Its flagship brand increased its market share 0.6 of a point to 18.8% in 1984, while Coke slipped 2.8 points to a 21.7% share in 1984, according to Beverage World, a trade magazine.

Diet Sodas Surge

Although regular cola brands have accounted for 60% of the soft-drink market for at least a decade, sales of diet sodas sweetened with saccharin and/or aspartame have been growing at three times the rate of regular brands. Diet sodas now account for about 20% of total soft-drink sales, according to the National Soft Drink Assn. in Washington.

Reformulating Coca-Cola is but one way that Coke is trying to combat the popularity of diet sodas.

The Times reported on April 14 that Coke is planning this spring to introduce in the United States the Minute Maid brand soda that it has been test marketing in Canada. Made from 10% real orange juice, the product is expected to be introduced in both regular and diet versions.

In its Friday report, Beverage Digest cited a secret Coca-Cola survey showing that 55% of about 190,000 respondents preferred the new Coke, while 45% liked the old version. Among those who were regular drinkers of Coke, 53% chose the new drink.

The reformulation might not even affect many bottlers, since they already have some leeway in selecting which sweeteners to add to Coke. Many Hawaiian bottlers, for example, use sugar instead of corn syrup, according to a spokeswoman at the Sugar Assn. in Washington.

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