New Diet Coke range for the US - Jan 2018

Diet Coke’s ’full restage’, not quite a reformulation, and limited for now to the US

Compared with the bang of Diet Coke’s overhaul last month in the US, the UK version this week came… well, not quite with a whimper – but it was certainly subdued.

Two fruity flavours have landed quietly on shelves in Tesco with just the slightest difference from North America. The US and Canada have Feisty Cherry and Twisted Mango. We’ve got Feisty Cherry and Exotic Mango. They’ve arrived in a 1.25-litre bottle and a multipack of cans. There’s no sign so far of Ginger Lime or Zesty Blood Orange – nor the brightly coloured slimline cans that sparked so much excitement a few weeks ago.

That was when Coca-Cola announced Diet Coke’s “full restage” (falling short of an actual reformulation). In spite of it being the biggest change to the sugar-free soda since its 1982 debut, Coca-Cola European Partners was quick to insist there were no plans for a launch in the UK, where Diet Coke sales have dipped in the face of competition from healthier carbonated drinks in a can. CCEP had “nothing to confirm in the GB market” it told The Grocer. So much for that!

So what are we to make of Coke’s new enthusiasm for fruity flavours? (Aside from the two new Diet Coke variants, Coca Cola Zero Sugar is apparently getting a Peach flavour.)

In the US, the new flavours have been greeted with mixed reviews. One review, in GQ, memorably described them as “delirious”, so it will be interesting to see how they’ll go down with British shoppers.

At the same time, there’s a broader category picture to consider, of course. For Richard Hall, chairman of consultancy Zenith Global, the Diet Coke revamp is sign of growing pressure on soft drinks brands to innovate. The carbonates category now has “so much innovation clutter that every brand has to keep refreshing awareness through experimentation and extra difference” he says. With its overhaul, Diet Coke “is stretching people’s interest while staying true to its loyal consumer base” believes Hall. “Our interest will soon be drawn by the next wave of flavours or packs or ingredients, but I believe the brand’s core appeal will remain strong.”

Possibly to maintain that core appeal, the UK drinks have been given only a minor design tweak, with coloured ribbon added to reflect flavours. They’ve ducked the major makeover seen Stateside. This, insists Honey Creative’s Greg Vallance, is a good thing because “it’s the flavours that will grab people’s attention rather than a radically different design”. Less is more when it comes to success for the gigantic likes of Coke, he says. “It’s very difficult with global consumer brands, which have had a place in most of our lives for most of the time, to change things radically, especially ones as ubiquitous as Coke.”

Whether the UK version of the Diet Coke revamp will ultimately also extend to new-design cans is unclear at this stage. CCEP has yet to make an official launch announcement about the new flavours – or how they fit into its wider plans for Diet Coke in this country.

But one thing is certain: the quiet launch into Tesco is unlikely to stay quiet for long.