Coca-Cola’s new focus on ‘breakthrough beverages’
Coca-Cola North America is launching “breakthrough beverages” in emerging categories – including kombuchas with less sugar, cultured ciders, keto-friendly smoothies and cold-brew coffees – in record time.
“Category blurring” is now a predominant theme across industry, as large and established players quickly move into what was once considered a playing field for small businesses and new entrants.
“Entrepreneurs dream of having the power of our brands and scale of our distribution network, while large global companies like Coke want to be able to innovate quickly, iteratively and stay competitive in emerging spaces,” explains Susan Zaripheh, Group Director of Transformational Innovation at Coca-Cola.
Over the past ten to twenty years, the ripples of change in the global soft drinks market have risen to become “tidal waves of innovation,” with new categories emerging constantly and genuine novelty flooding the shelves.
This is according to new market analysis from Innova Market Insights, which underscores rapid growth in alternative categories.
Coca-Cola’s Transformational Innovation Team partners with brands and business units to take new drinks in unfamiliar spaces to commercialisation in “a handful of months,” details the company.
A rotating group of R&D and regulatory specialists is helping the company “navigate uncharted territory” by challenging existing approaches to innovation.
This ranges from sourcing and seeking approval on new ingredients, to producing beverages in emerging categories, to bringing new brands to market – through an “agile, test-and-learn launch model”.
However, Zaripheh insists that the team is taking steps to move quickly without compromising safety or quality, or taking due-diligence shortcuts.
“Being nimble doesn’t mean cutting corners. It means approaching challenges from different angles and finding ways to parallel-path and operate with flexibility.
“We hear a lot about speed to market these days. But speed by itself isn’t a competitive advantage – anyone can go fast. The key is identifying potential big bets, starting small and learning before making significant investments and launching at scale. That’s what we do,” she explains.
Inspiring a “mindset shift” in NPD
Coca-Cola has prioritised challenging organisational processes and breaking down boundaries.
“What we’re trying to do is inspire a mindset shift and push the company into new or emerging segments, which consumers want us to explore,” says Zaripheh.
The Transformational Innovation Team has partnered with the Minute Maid Business Unit which manages Coca-Cola North America’s juice and plant-based beverage portfolio.
Together they have developed several breakthrough products including Cidewinder, which boasts similar digestive health benefits as kombucha but with less sugar.
The cultured juice brand leverages a novel ingredient and process from a third-party company, and is now being tested in select grocery and convenience store outlets.
“Cidewinder is an example of how we’re moving quickly, but deliberately, by running small market tests before investing significant time or resources,” Zaripheh said.
“Some of the brands we’re helping to launch will not reach scale, but that’s the point of what we’re doing. We’re pushing the company to move faster than ever and to use real-time market data to make informed decisions and gain important learnings for the future.”
Coca-Cola’s premium bottled smoothie producer Odwalla worked with Zaripheh’s team to help develop this zero-sugar, keto-friendly smoothie using trending ingredients like MCT oil and coconut cream – bringing the first-of-its-kind offering in the Coca-Cola portfolio to life in less than six months.
The brand is also known for its role in Coca-Cola’s first foray into the dynamic kombucha segment…..
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