Coke Zero's Formula Is Changing. What Could Go Wrong?

By: Sarah Gleim  | 

Coke Zero
Coca-Cola has reformulated the recipe for its popular Coke Zero soda. Could the soft drink giant be on the verge of another New Coke disaster? Coca-Cola Co.

You'd think Coca-Cola would learn from its mistakes. But apparently the team at the soft drink giant has "forgotten" what happened in 1985 when it decided to reformulate Coca-Cola and rebrand it as "New Coke," the first change to the secret formula in 99 years.

New Coke was a flop, to say the least. It was on shelves for just 74 days before Coca-Cola revived Coca-Cola Classic. Pundits blasted the entire debacle as the "marketing blunder of the century."

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So it's pretty surprising to say the least that Coca-Cola is up to it again and reformulating its popular Coke Zero, the diet version of the much-loved classic Coke flavor. The company announced July 13 it was changing Coke Zero so it would taste more like the iconic Coke. The Coke Zero can is also getting a new look. The new can is solid red with black lettering, rather than red and black.

But this is 2021, not 1985 — and it's also not the first time since it was launched in 2005 that Coke Zero's formula has changed. The company updated it in 2017 to taste more like Coca‑Cola, and Coke Zero has been super popular since then. Though none of this has stopped Coke Zero fans from lambasting the idea on social media.

Coca-Cola says the change is necessary to stay ahead of what its consumers want. "In order to continue to drive growth of our diets and lights category, we must keep challenging ourselves to innovate and differentiate just as other iconic brands have done," Natalia Suarez, senior brand manager, Coca-Cola, North America Operating Unit, said in a statement. "The consumer landscape is always changing, which means we must evolve to stay ahead."

The new Coke Zero has already hit shelves in Europe and Latin America, and will start to become available in the United States this month. It will be fully distributed in the U.S. and Canada by August. Reception so far is mixed, and depends on who you ask.

Rafael Prandini, category lead of Coca-Cola in North America told CNN the company tested the new recipe and the new look "with current Coca-Cola Zero Sugar consumers and non-consumers. And they really love it," he said. But social media is already filled with comments like "Why are you changing my favorite drink?? I like it precisely because it's not as sweet as regular Coke!" and "Here in Mexico it was released last month. I tried it and I'm very disappointed."

The million-dollar question will be whether die-hard Coke Zero fans will love or hate it. Or if this will end up as another marketing blunder of epic proportions. Only time will tell.

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