Choosing a Coke has become a bit like trying to order a coffee from an aggressively choice-orientated chain. Do you want it with or without caffeine? Low-calorie, no-calorie or who cares how many calories? Splash of lemon, lime, cherry, vanilla or coffee?
Gone are the days when Coca-Cola came in standard, diet and, if you were lucky, cherry variants. Altogether, there are 20 different versions of Coke and Diet Coke available around the world.
Diet Coke with Lemon started the ball rolling with its UK launch in 2002, and was designed to mimic the taste of the drink in pubs where it is sold with 'ice and a slice'.
Next came the £5m debut of Vanilla Coke and Diet Coke Vanilla in 2003, which Coca-Cola trumpeted as its biggest launch in the UK for 20 years after successful trials of the flavour in the US. However, many UK consumers found the flavour too sweet and two and a half years later vanilla was quietly axed.
The next variant to appear in the UK was Diet Coke with Lime in 2005, closely followed by the limited-edition Coca-Cola with Lemon. Diet Coke with Cherry arrived in January this year, and Coca-Cola with Lime followed in March, also as a limited edition.
It won't end there either, although the company is coy regarding speculation about its latest offerings destined for UK shores later this year. However, sources suggest that Coca-Cola Zero, which is the no-calorie variant launched in the US last summer, and Coca-Cola Blak, a coffee-flavoured cola unveiled in France in January, are both likely to be sold in the UK later this year.
There are also rumours of a Diet Coke Plus energy drink.
Coca-Cola Enterprises dismisses claims from industry commentators that the recent flurry of extensions smacks of desperation rather than innovation as the iconic brand seeks to recapture consumer interest in the face of falling sales of carbonates. "We know that consumers welcome new variants, and we are delighted with the success they have had in growing our brands and the category," says operational marketing director Kieran Hemsworth. "We know from our own research, but it is also seen in other categories, that flavour news drives sales. This can either be as a long term addition or a short term limited edition," he says.
According to Hemsworth, Diet Coke with Lime is worth £30m after only a year, qualifying it as a big success.
2003: After a promising debut in the US, the company launches Vanilla Coca-Cola and Diet Coke with Vanilla into the market, billed as its biggest launch in the UK in 20 years.
2005: Citrus is the flavour of the year, with launches of Diet Coke with Lime and Coca-Cola with Lemon. The company scraps Vanilla Coke after only two and a half years on sale.
2006: Diet Coke with Cherry hits the market in January this year, followed by the limited edition Coca-Cola with Lime last month. Its no-calorie variant Coca-Cola Zero is also tipped to be launched in the UK later in the year.
Focus on Soft Drinks (May 2006)