Tate & Lyle
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Things go better with Coke, Laxative Edition

The Japanese government has given a “gold label” to the soda CocaCola Plus, a designation meant to certify the drink’s “health benefits”.

IN A country where grilled fish is a breakfast food and many think the stinkiest soybeans are the tastiest, it stands to reason Coke is now a health drink.

It isn’t just Coca-Cola touting the healthful side of its Japan-only Plus drink. The Japanese government has given it a gold label certifying its benefits.

Japan’s life expectancy—87 years for women, 81 for men—is several years ahead of America’s, thanks in part to low obesity. Japanese ideas about good diet, such as green tea and fermented foods, have become mainstays in the West.

Now, the government thinks it can add to the dietary wisdom by certifying Coca-Cola Plus and other products as Foods for Specified Health Uses, or Foshu.

The certified products, which have grown into a market of $6-billion in annual sales, according to Japan Health and Nutrition Food Association, contain compounds the government deems to have a particular benefit, such as lowering cholesterol or preventing osteoporosis.

Zero-calorie Coca-Cola Plus features dextrin, derived from various starches and widely used in the food industry as a food thickener, as a replacement for fats in reduced calorie foods and as a good source of dietary fibre.

The new variant joins two other designated “healthy” colas in Japan—Pepsi Special, made by Suntory Beverage and Food under a licensing deal with PepsiCo, and Kirin Mets Cola from Kirin Beverage Co.

Launched in February 2017

The first-ever Coca-Cola approved as FOSHU was rolled out nationwide last February in eye-catching white packaging after more than a decade of R&D.

The no-calorie beverage contains five grams of indigestible dextrin – a source of dietary fibre – per 470ml bottle. 

The launch press release claimed that drinking one Coca-Cola Plus per day with food will help suppress fat absorption and help moderate the levels of triglycerides in the blood after eating.

“Coca-Cola Plus is a sugar-free and calorie-free beverage with FOSHU functions and great Coca-Cola taste, so we hope people will drink it with meals,” said Dr David Machiels, product development director, R&D, Coca-Cola Asia Pacific.

Some scepticism

Michiko Kamiyama, a lawyer with a group called Food Safety Citizens’ Watch that monitors food safety issues on behalf of consumers, wonders whether the government should be endorsing Coke and Pepsi as healthful.

A vigorous 77, Kamiyama says she didn’t get that way downing lots of carbonated drinks.

“If you have a well-balanced diet and do an appropriate amount of exercise then you don’t need them,” says Kamiyama of the certified foods and drinks. “I personally think it is totally ineffective.”

Khalil Younes, a marketing executive at Coca-Cola Japan, says scientists spent a decade trying to preserve the taste of Coca-Cola while including ingredients that could win the government’s gold seal.

“We were quite ballsy in how we approached the launch,” he says, “because we were supremely confident based on our data that we had a winner, both on the functionality and also on the taste.”

Others who have tried Coca-Cola Plus without studying the label have been surprised by the extent of its laxative effect. Online commenters and some people interviewed in Tokyo said they ended up with upset stomachs or worse.

“There is no danger to the human body,” Coke’s Younes says. “We would never launch something that is harmful to anybody.”

Regarding side effects, he refers to the labelling: “The only caveat we have is that if you drink too much—it is in there, that you may have loose bowels from over consumption. It depends on your condition, but what we are trying to avoid is people over-consuming in the belief that the more they drink, the more it will help.”

Coca-Cola declines to give sales figures for Plus but says it is a success. It says low-sugar or sugarless drinks—many of them teas, coffees and other non-colas—account for 62% of Coke’s sales in Japan.

In Japan’s beverage market, companies have been known to introduce as many as 100 new drinks a year. The competitiveness “is just mind-boggling,” says Younes.

Source: Coca-Cola Co, Wall Street Journal

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