Coca-Cola may have invested in its Diet Coke brand heavily since the start of the year - unveiling fresh packaging and flavours - but three years after admitting that turning around the product’s fortunes was a “work in progress”, the drinks giant still isn’t sure it has found the best way to put the fizz back into its sales.
Speaking during Coca-Cola’s earnings call today (16 February), the advertiser’s vice-president and investor relations officer Tim Leveridge said Diet Coke's sleek rebrand was off to a “strong start”. However, he caveated that the company thinks it will take more then fresh flavors like ‘fiesty cherry’ and ‘twisted mango’ to help stave off slumping sales and encourage growth.
Leveridge noted: “I’m not sure just the flavors or packages will get us there but it’s certainly going to be a good step in the right direction.”
He continued: “Clearly it’s one of our points of dissatisfaction in 2017 was that we were not able to turn around Diet Coke. I think the team have come up with strong plan for 2018 with the new flavors' can, design, size and some of the marketing. [Diet Coke is] hopefully going to have a better year in 2018, we’re finding the path forward.”
As well making changes to the product itself, Coca-Cola funnelled cash into a Super Bowl spot heroing Diet Coke. Australian actress Hayley Magnus fronted the brand’s first spot since 1997, in a creative aimed to appeal to millennials.
Part of Coca-Cola's issue lies in the fact consumers are making what they perceive to be healthier choices, with market research firm IRI noting that in the US alone soda sales have declines by $1.2bn over the past five years, while sparkling water sales have increased by $1.4bn.
In Q4 of 2017, Coke Zero Sugar noted a global 10-point growth bump following a significant design and marketing overall in which it was launched in 20 markets. However, Leveridge said this didn’t mean the firm was taking its eye off the ball when it came to reviving Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola has been trying to stem plummeting Diet Coke sales since at least 2015, with Euromonitor claiming three years ago that Coke Zero was "cannibalizing" the former's sales. At the same time, Coke decided to align the marketing of its top four variants in Europe.
Overall, Coca-Cola posted better-than-expected annual results for 2017 in its final year earnings filing.
While the company made a net loss of $2.75bn in the final quarter of the year due to the one-off charge which many companies have also been hit with due to President Trump's new corporation tax rules, the organic sales rose by 6% thanks to demand for products like Glaceau water.
Revenues fell by 20% to $7.51bn year-on-year. This was largely because of the impact of the drinks maker selling off its bottling operations, but this still topped Wall Street forecasts that it would reach $7.36bn.
"We achieved or exceeded our full-year guidance while driving significant change as we continued to transform into a total beverage company," said chief executive James Quincey. "While there is still much work to do, I am encouraged by our momentum as we head into 2018."