The firm says this was driver behind the launch of new reformulated recipes for several of its most-popular products.
Although the sugar-reduction trend was already on the rise in the soft drinks industry even before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has had a significant impact on consumers examining their health and lifestyles, and thus their food and drink intake, leading to a further increase in demand for healthier beverage options.
“Consumers [have been] taking their health more seriously during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated the trend towards healthier options as more [they] are aware of the food and beverages they are consuming, while also adopting healthier lifestyles,” Coca-Cola Singapore and Malaysia Marketing Manager Rustam Gabaydullin told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“In the ASEAN region, [we have seen] an increased demand for Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as this health consciousness rose and continues to rise amongst consumers. Generally, Coca-Cola Classic still maintains its popularity [but in markets where the zero sugar version] is available, demand for this is on the rise and we see the market for this continuing to grow.
“[This is especially so] as younger consumers are the ones who have mostly begun to demand for healthier, lower-calorie options.”
At present within the ASEAN region, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been launched in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
The firm has also reformulated in terms of product sizes and the recipes of several other popular soft drinks in its portfolio, including Sprite and Fanta, to meet these rising sugar-reduction demands.
“Coca-Cola Classic has also been made available in 180mL mini-cans [as opposed to the regular 320mL] which have proven to be popular among consumers,” added Gabaydullin.
“Most recently, we introduced new recipes for the Sprite and Fanta range which contain approximately 50% less sugar.”
The reformulated Sprite recipe now contains 4.6g sugar per 100mL as opposed to 9g previously, and all Fanta flavours now also have some 4.6g sugar per 100mL compared to about 10.9g.
To reduce sugar content in these products, Coca-Cola has opted to use sweeteners which are generally artificial in nature, the health impacts of which there has been some debate in the past – but the firm is standing by its reformulated recipes, saying that the science is strong for the ingredients it uses.
“We use low or zero calorie sweeteners in a number of our products [because] we know that many people want the choice of great-tasting beverages with less calories,” said Gabaydullin.
“[Coca-Cola only uses] sweeteners that have been thoroughly tested in scientific studies, are confirmed as safe by globally recognised authorities and which are permitted for use.”
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar uses sucralose and acesulfame potassium to replace sugar content entirely, other reduced-sugar Coca-Cola options (e.g. Coca-Cola Less Sugar or Coca-Cola Light) use only sucralose or a combination of these, whereas in Sprite and Fanta only sucralose is used.
Gabaydullin added that government initiatives in the ASEAN region have also been a significant driver for the sugar reduction trend.
“[Recent] government trends across the region [have seen a] ramping up of efforts to encourage a healthier lifestyle amongst the population, which often includes sugar consumption in moderation,” he said.
“One example is in Singapore, where today more than 85% of our portfolio in Singapore is certified with the Healthier Choice Symbol and we have been innovating to launch new lower-sugar and no-sugar drinks [as well as] beverages in smaller pack sizes to help Singaporeans with portion control.
“Similarly in Malaysia, more than 80% of our portfolio is certified with the Healthier Choice Logo and has 5g/100ml or less sugar in these products.”
In terms of policy measures, Malaysia implemented a sugar tax of RM0.40 (US$0.10) per litre on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugars over 5g per 100mL in 2019, whereas Singapore is expected to enforce a colour-coded labelling scheme for pre-packaged drinks this year called Nutri-Grade, which also would have the most major impacts on drinks with over 5g per 100mL sugar content.