BevNET.COM’s View: First Take on Coke Zero

There’s a lot of debate in the BevNET offices about this Coke line extension, mostly relating to the overall quality of Coke itself. That’s because in terms of its flavor profile, Coke’s little cabal of taste technicians has come up with a beverage that, despite its lack of sugar or, in Coke’s lamentable case, high-fructose corn syrup, still tastes a great deal like its flagship brand: it’s got that key spicy, almost cinnamon-like taste that helped drive Coca-Cola Classic to the head of the soft drink channel. As an added bonus, Coca-Cola Zero doesn’t feature the creepy high-fructose throat coating, tongue-drying action that has plagued the product for the last two decades.

@@img1 Depending on one’s level of Coke addiction, Zero is better – and certainly more accurate in terms of presenting a no-calorie version of its forefather – than Coke’s other giant product, Diet Coke, although there’s still that giveaway undertone of artificiality in Zero’s aftertaste. That artificiality presents itself in the same way as it does in Diet Coke – as a watery, overly sweet, chemical finish – but it’s not as strong in Zero, because the trademark spice notes drown out and nullify much of the Aspartame/Ace-K blend’s negative qualities.

In other words, in Zero, Coke has come out with something that’s a much better diet version of its core product than Diet Coke.

And that leads us back to the root of the debate here, which is, what’s so great about that? It’s a good version of Coke Classic, an over-hyped brand whose flavor is no longer what it was because of the company’s switch to HFCS, one whose focus on marketing “Coke Moments” has become so ubiquitous as to sprit those moments of any emotional heft, turning them into self-parody. And that begs the question — in terms of product development, and in terms of re-energizing the Coca-Cola Company itself, is this the best they could do?

Because absent the cultural significance of Coke Classic, this just isn’t that great.

BevNET reviews a lot of sodas, diet and non-diet, and in terms of taste, a great many of them beat Coke Classic any day and twice on a hot one; the companies who make them don’t have the marketing heft of Coke, and because of the distribution practices of Big Cola, they are never likely to garner the followings they deserve. And like Coke Classic, Zero suffers in comparison to the taste of those sodas, as it does in its white and black labels, which look like the printers at the factory ran low on red ink.

But in conducting our reviews, BevNET also looks at marketability, and at the accuracy of a diet drink in representing the flavor of its predecessor. And in that respect, in Zero, Coke has likely come up with a winner. Except, that is, for the label, which is a colorless version of an established piece of iconography. That’s probably as good an analogy as any for the Coca-Cola Company itself, but we predict big sales for Zero nevertheless.