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Coca-Cola launches public competition to find its next sugar alternative

Coca-Cola is calling on the public via the crowdsourcing platform HeroX to develop a natural, low-to-no-calorie sweetener, but the compound must not contain, or be derived from, stevia or monk fruit.

Robert Long, SVP and chief innovation officer at Coca-Cola, said the company is pleased with the range of low and no-calorie sweeteners it currently uses in its beverages around the world, including stevia, but that the search for emerging ingredients has always been a priority.

“We’re always searching for newer, better ingredients,” Long said on the company’s news site.

The sweetener innovation contest called the “Coca-Cola Company Sweetener Challenge” is part of the beverage giant’s efforts to keep up with evolving consumer tastes and its ongoing effort to reshape its growth strategy focusing on building its low and no-sugar beverage portfolio.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded $1m in October 2018, Coca-Cola said.

A second challenge called the “sweet story challenge” calls for written anecdotes and videos about favourite, tried-and-true methods of naturally sweetening foods or beverages from various cultures, communities or families for a $100,000 award with winners to be announced in December.

“These two challenges are very much rooted in our desire to make the drinks our consumers want to drink, and in our willingness to look beyond the walls of our company for breakthrough sugar alternatives that help us deliver the great taste people love but with less sugar and fewer calories,” Long said on Coca-Cola’s site.

Both projects are being led by Coca-Cola’s External Technology Acquisition whose role is to explore and invest in emerging ingredients, packaging materials, and beverage production technologies.

Growing low- and no-sugar options

Coca-Cola said it will continue to expand its portfolio of low to no-sugar beverage options to respond to consumers’ health-conscious consumption and purchasing habits. This shift requires the company to take risks and pursue new ways of innovating, CEO James Quincey said.

“As we expand our portfolio, we are embracing a ‘test-and-learn’ mentality,” Quincey said during its Q2 earnings call late last month.

“We’re seeing what consumers want and making adjustments immediately. Because at the end of the day, speed and agility are critical in this rapidly changing consumer landscape.”

Part of its reshaped business strategy was the recent re-positioning and launch of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar (originally Coca-Cola Zero) worldwide, which underwent a flavour adjustment to better mimic the taste of regular Coke.

The relaunch of Coca-Cola Zero resulted in high-single digit sales growth for the quarter, according to Q217 financial results.

“Our organic revenue growth in sparkling soft drinks was led by innovation in and marketing support for low- and no-sugar options like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which is rapidly expanding in availability around the world,” Quincey said.

Source: Coca-Cola, Fortune