Opinion: The first Coca-Cola alcoholic drink is here, and it’s a big deal!

Coca-Cola

[Representational image] | Photo credit: Creative Commons

The first range of Coca-Cola alcoholic drinks is here. Three new offerings from arguably the largest soft-drink company in the world are now available in Japan.

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And this is a bigger deal than many have realised. Because it may just open the floodgates to a global war over who captures the alcoholic beverage market.

Much like the cola wars that peaked in the 1980s and 90s, and continued well into the 2000s.

The segment, as is, is almost untapped. Competitive offerings from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other soft-drink companies could really heat up in the coming years.

Coca-Cola alcoholic drink debuts in Japan

Coca-Cola has a lot of offerings in Japan. However, at the beginning of this week, it launched three new drinks with alcohol in them.

The three new drinks are from the “Lemon-Do” line — fizzy lemon drinks that are popular with women.

The new Coca-Cola alcoholic drink line has been given the moniker alcopop. This is possibly a portmanteau of alcohol and soda pop.

The three drinks contain 3 percent, 5 percent and 7 percent alcohol, respectively. They will be available in 350-ml cans. The cost will be ¥150, or around $1.40.

Lemon-Do
In picture: Lemon-Do alcoholic drinks in a supermarket in Japan. Picture credit: Facebook/Coca-Cola Japan official page

Why is this a big deal?

Coca-Cola has for long avoided any drink that can give anyone any high. Of course, the original formula of Coke had cocaine in it, with the proportion being described as a “tiny bit” or a “mere trace.”

Once that formula was phased out, Coca-Cola has never used alcohol or anything that imparts a high in any of its drinks.

The new Lemon-Do drinks are a definite departure. If the Coca-Cola alcoholic drink line becomes a success in Japan, a case can definitely be made for similar drinks to be introduced in other parts of the world.

Several influencing factors

However, this is Japan we are talking about. This is a country that has a weirdly large number of odd flavours of Kit-Kat because the brand name has a resemblance  to the phrase “Kitto Katsu.” This can be translated roughly to: “You will surely win.” In essence, a local form of wishing someone luck.

These Kit-Kat flavours are rarely available outside Japan. They are an indication of how a very localised marketing campaign worked.

Kit-Kat
In picture: Kit-Kats in Japan. Picture credit: Flickr/Marco Carag

Now, Coca-Cola has managed to localise its recent “Share a Coke” campaign successfully, thanks to good market research. If it manages to replicate that success with its alcopop line, the trend may spread far.

One inhibiting factor, however, might be how the company wants to be perceived as a brand. Its association with alcohol may raise the hackles of countries where alcohol is a religious no-no.

Problems may also arise in countries –like India and China — where alcohol is considered a vice. Soft-drink companies might not want to be associated with alcohol in these countries for fear of loss of brand value.

Otherwise, the entire alcopop industry may benefit from the barely-legal demographic, which wants to party frequently, but may not want to booze as frequently.

[Arkadev Ghoshal is a veteran journalist who has written on a number of topics. The opinions expressed here are his own.]

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