Watch out: Bubbles in latest Coke might be hot air

The Leckey File

Your Money

October 31, 2004|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

I am Lost in Carbonation. You may have seen me wandering the beverage aisle of your local grocery store mumbling about simpler times when there were just a half-dozen types of sodas.

There are so many subtle distinctions within products of even the same brands that I now fear I'll make a mistake and take home some swill that turns even my closest friends against me.

For example, C2, Coca-Cola Co.'s reduced-carb, reduced-calorie cola introduced last summer at a cost of $50 million, is a super hip drink. Market research deemed it such a sure thing that it was priced 50 percent higher than regular Coke. I lost weight just thinking about it.

But it appears to be a failure and might disappear before I've even had a chance to taste it. It's even being blamed for the company's 24 percent earnings drop last quarter.

When did I start to disconnect from the beverage industry? When did new tastes in carbonation begin to appear and disappear without my prior knowledge?

My mind spins as I am projected back to April 23, 1985. I'm at a news conference piped into hotel meeting halls across the nation. Swarms of reporters, including me, have been lured by the promise of a huge story from mighty Coca-Cola.

It turns out to be the introduction of New Coke. Comedian Bill Cosby takes a sip and assures us it is "better" than old Coke. But he is terribly wrong, and Coca-Cola is no longer infallible. To appease traditionalists, Coke Classic soon coexisted with New Coke on the shelves.

Thus began an era of expensive market-researched soda launches, providing a once-stable industry with a cornucopia of new drinks, many failing miserably. This left all of us consumers confused, asking ourselves introspective questions such as: "Deep down inside do I really want caffeine or cherry or color in my cola and why?"

On Nov. 11, Coke management will provide analysts with insight into its expectations for 2005 and beyond. The company's shareholders fervently hope that absolutely no market research figures are included in those projections.

- Andrew Leckey, Tribune Media Services

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