Britain’s biggest brand has suffered the year’s third biggest loss, losing a painful £37.2m

Holly Willoughby

Last year: 1 ►◄

Sales: £1,104.4m (–3.3%)

Britain’s biggest brand has suffered the year’s third biggest loss, losing a painful £37.2m. Only Warburtons (2) and Princes (44) lost more.

And if that sounds like small change to a brand worth more than £1.1bn, the longer term view paints an even grimmer picture: Coke hasn’t registered a value gain in this report since 2014. Since then it’s lost £87.6m. Almost a 10th of its sales.

Yes, the demonisation of sugar has made life tough, and yes, carbonates has for some years been a challenging category. But the fact CCEP stablemate Fanta (59), Monster (57) and Coke’s bitter rivals Pepsi (7) and Red Bull (17) are in solid growth (Pepsi has gained almost as much as Coke has lost) makes it that bit harder for Coke to blame its performance on external pressures.

Classic Coke has lost £27.3m (4.6%), Diet is down £12.1m (2.8%) and ‘green’ Coke Life has crashed 58.1% to just £8.8m, after all but three key SKUs were axed at the end of 2016. Life’s days are surely numbered, but it’s not all bad: Coke Zero Sugar, the reformulated version of Coke Zero launched last July, has surged 15.7% to £105.8m. “We’re really pleased with Zero Sugar,” says CCEP Great Britain’s VP & general manager Leendert den Hollander. “In the second half of the year, after the launch in July, the brand was up 35%, which is significant.”


Zero Sugar’s launch – the result of years of R&D to make a cola that tastes like Coke but without the calories (a key message in its marketing) – will one day be seen as a landmark moment in both Coke’s history and in the so-called ‘war on sugar’, says Den Hollander, while tacitly acknowledging that CCEP is pinning its hopes for future growth on Coke’s zero sugar variants, although of course this doesn’t mean Classic is going anywhere.

“Success for us would be that we continue to grow Zero Sugar, but also Diet Coke,” says den Hollander. He points, with some justification, to Coke’s strength in the on-trade and convenience as evidence that the overall brand remains in good health.

“We need to leverage the portfolio that we have,” he adds. “I think there will always be a role for Classic Coke. It’s still very occasion-led, it’s a treat for people, and I think that will never go away. Classic, Diet Coke and Zero Sugar is where our focus is going to be.”

Note the absence of Life, which den Hollander says has “a small and very loyal following,” in that statement. Support for Zero Sugar will continue this year with Cherry and Vanilla flavours launching in the summer. Diet Coke, meanwhile, has signed up TV presenter Holly Willoughby (right) as its UK brand ambassador in an effort to reconnect with its core female market.

With the sugar levy set to bite in 2018, it will take more than that to get lapsed drinkers to reconnect with Classic. But Pepsi’s done just that with its full-sugar cola up 2.1%. And only a fool would write red Coke off. After all, it’s still worth £569.8m, more than £100m more than all Pepsi variants combined.