Fizz with fortification

by Jeff Gelski
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The two largest soft drink manufacturers believe vitamin-fortified carbonated soft drinks may help them tap into the health and wellness trend, a trend that lately has done little to boost their product sales. The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, already has launched Diet Coke Plus. PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., has released information, but no specific launch date, on its Tava beverage.

Some doubt whether consumers will associate carbonated soft drinks with health and wellness. The Hartman Group, Seattle, mentioned Diet Coke Plus in the opening paragraph of its May 9 report, "The Continuing Saga of Functional Foods."

"The popularity of ‘functional foods’ is not showing signs of waning any time soon," the report said. "Consider for a moment two recent offerings: Diet Coke Plus (the ‘plus’ meaning added vitamins and minerals) and Tropicana Orange Juice with Omega-3.

"Both seem to be banking on health and wellness messaging to resonate with consumers. Care to guess which one has a better chance at success with consumers?"

Tom Pirko, president of the food and beverage consulting firm Bevmark, was more direct in his opinion of Diet Coke Plus in a March 7 article in The New York Times. He said it was a "joke" to market artificially sweetened soft drinks as healthy, even if they were fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Carbonated soft drink sales have stagnated during the health and wellness trend. Regular cola drink sales in the United States were $4.41 billion for the 52 weeks ended March 29, 2003, according to ACNielsen. The dollar figure dropped to $3.87 billion for the 52 weeks ended March 27, 2007. Diet cola sales fared better, improving to $2.89 billion from $2.67 billion. The statistics covered food, drug and mass merchandiser stores not including Wal-Mart.

Statistics from New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. show U.S. volume declines for the two largest soft drink companies. The Coca-Cola Co. suffered declines of 0.4% in 2004-2005 and 1.1% in 2005-06. PepsiCo’s declines were 1.3% and 1.5% in the same two years.

Coca-Cola hopes Diet Coke Plus improves those numbers in the future.

"Consumers, including Diet Coke drinkers, are increasingly looking for more beverage options, and we wanted to offer them the convenience of a calorie-free beverage that is a good source of several essential vitamins and minerals, and one that delivers on the great taste that they have come to expect from us," said Katie Bayne, senior vice-president, Coca-Cola Brands, Coca-Cola North America.

Each 8-oz serving of Diet Coke Plus provides a good source of niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc and magnesium. Diet Coke Plus is not a significant source of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, fiber, sugars, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron, according to its Nutrition Facts Panel.

PepsiCo executives talked about the fortified carbonated soft drink Tava at an analyst day last October.

"Consumers love bubbles so why not give them the bubbles they love in a healthier way," said Dawn Hudson, president and chief executive officer of PepsiCo North America.

She said PepsiCo expected to introduce Tava in 2007.

"It’s a new fortified product targeted to (baby) boomers as a healthy pleasure," Ms. Hudson said. "It has vitamins and chromium, a mineral that helps with metabolism and weight loss.

"Tava is caffeine free and will be available in a proprietary bottle. It’s inspired by exotic experiences around the globe such as Brazilian Samba, a tropical berry blend, and Caribbean Calypso, a melon peach cooler."

In February at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference, PepsiCo executives again said they expect to release Tava later this year but did not give a date.

The Hartman Group’s May 9 report agreed that functional foods and beverages may appeal to baby boomers, who would rather not take medicine. However, the report stated the trend toward fresh, real foods like organic and whole grain items presents a barrier to functional foods and beverages, especially if they are processed heavily.

"Consumers don’t want food from a lab," the report said.

Along with its vitamins, Diet Coke Plus contains artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K). Potassium sorbate and potassium benzoate are added to protect taste.

Fortification efforts have focused on other forms of beverages besides carbonated soft drinks. Watson, Inc., West Haven, Conn., last year introduced Clear-E for beverage applications where optically clear products are desired. The Clear-E ingredient is a free-flowing form of vitamin E that is spray-dried within a modified starch matrix. Kerry Ingredients, Beloit, Wis., created a calcium chocolate shake product platform that delivers 80% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium.

The new Enrich service from London-based Tate & Lyle, P.L.C. features Multi-Fruit Drink Enrich and Flavoured Water Enrich. The fruit drink includes calcium, zinc and vitamins A, C and E. The flavored water drink includes B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin E and various minerals.

Coca-Cola recently introduced Minute Maid Multi-Vitamin in its Minute Maid Enhanced Juice line. The juice contains 16 essential vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins and minerals in beverages should be discussed July 31 in the presentation "Intricate Issues on Functional Beverage Manufacturing" at the "The Best of Food Thinking 2007: the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting & Food Expo" in Chicago. Dr. Debasis Bagchi, Ph. D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacy Sciences at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha and chair-elect of the Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods Division of the I.F.T., will give the presentation. It will focus on such areas as making certain ingredients in the beverages have attained Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status, the importance of bioavailability studies and the need for sensory tests.

How consumers react to the new fortified carbonated soft drinks should have the final say on the beverages’ futures in the health and wellness arena.

"No matter how much money, how much expertise, how much innovation and marketing you throw at a product, consumers will simply not respond if it doesn’t match their cultural understanding of the way the world works," The Hartman Group report said. "In order for a product to appeal to consumers, they must be able to connect the dots between the product’s ingredients and its health claims from first glance."

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