Coke Blak Case Analysis

8 August 2016

Coca-Cola is the world’s largest non-alcoholic beverage manufacturer. The company has been in existence for more than 120 years and offers more than 3,500 products in more than 200 countries. Within the past 10 years, the carbonated beverage industry has experienced a decline in sales. This drop in sales is most likely associated with more knowledgeable consumers and the facts presented that link obesity to the high amounts of sugars in these beverages. In the earlier 2000s, Coca-Cola saturated the market with an abundance of new products, such as Coke Zero, Coca-Cola with Lemon, Coca-Cola Vanilla, and Coke Blak.

Many of these new brands did not receive good reviews and have since been pulled from the shelves to become an idea of the past. In this analysis, I will specifically be looking at the short lived lifecycle of Coca-Cola’s Coke Blak and some possible reasons as to why this product is didn’t make the cut.

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Coke Blak was introduced as a “carbonated fusion beverage”, which is a coffee flavored coke. The target population of this product was a sophisticated individual in their late 20s and 30s in search of a new experience. Coca-Cola marketed Blak as having, “Coke effervescence with coffee essence”. II. Key Issues:

There were many issues that Coca-Cola faced externally that would discourage consumers from experimenting with any new products that were released during the early 2000s. A push for healthier living had begun and consumers were more apt to purchase non-carbonated beverages such as juice, bottled water, tea, and coffee due to the association of obesity with high fructose corn syrup. This resulted in a decline in sales for the entire carbonated beverage industry. Coca-Cola’s response to this dilemma was to saturate the market with products that they fused with flavors such as lemon, lime, vanilla, and raspberry.

Many of these products were short lived and for sometime hurt the Coke brand. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s largest competitor, had taken its role as the non-carbonated beverage leader and showed their superior business strategy through the acquisition of other products such as Frito Lays (Howard, 2005). Pepsi had previously attempted the idea of a carbonated coffee and failed. Something that may have hurt the Coke Blak campaign was the many failures of its flavored coke just before releasing Blak. The oversaturated market of underperforming Coca-Cola products could have lead to the subsequent demise of its future ideas.

III. Causes: With all the issues that surrounded the Coca-Cola brand, there were problems internally that caused Coke Blak to enter the market destined for failure. There could be a number of reasons that lead to Coca-Cola’s decision to pull Blak from the shelves. Coke Blak hit the shelves in 2006 in Europe, the US, and Canada. The European version of Blak was only sweetened by sugar while the American version replaced the sugar with aspartame, acesulfame potassium and high fructose corn syrup to alter the taste to fit the American palate.

From the reviews, this product lacked taste needed to generate repeat buyers. The sophisticated population that the product targeted wasn’t impressed by the research put into the product. Aside from the taste, the packaging wasn’t very attractive. Coca-Cola used a short, skinny, 8-ounce glass bottle which was a good touch for the sophisticated audience that it aimed to reach. But they failed by covering this glass bottle completely with plastic shrink wrap, which added a cheaper feel to the bottle and obscured the view of the contents.

The black and brownish gold label looked different from any other Coke product and wouldn’t impress the loyal Coca-Cola drinkers. Sight and taste are the two senses that a beverage manufacturer has to capture to remain relevant and Coca-Cola missed on both. Also, the small bottle of Coke Blak was overpriced. Blak was priced close to $3. 00 per bottle. This is the price that consumers expect to pay when going to the local Starbucks to get a “tall” coffee. The idea that a consumer would neglect a beverage that they know and love to pay the same for an attempt to compete is asinine.

With the failure to market, miss on taste, bad presentation, and lofty price tag, Coke Blak was destined to fail, but many alternatives exist to get Blak out of the red and back in the black. IV. Alternative Solutions: Coca-Cola had the opportunity to control the market, but many other steps could have been taken to do so. Seeing that other manufacturers had failed repeatedly trying to perfect the concept, they had the chance to conduct extensive taste tests and research the reasons that similar products like Pepsi-Kona and Mazagran (Pepsi and Starbuck’s ‘sparkling’ coffee) failed, in

the past (Melody, 1995). Their results should have lead them in the direction to possibly collaborate with a well known coffee distributor to perfect this new unusual blend of coke and coffee, such as The J. M. Smucker Company that owns Millstone and Folgers and manufactures for Dunkin’ Donuts. Collaborating with a middle grade coffee distributor carries too well known names and helps to keep costs low and affordable for the consumer. Another missed step in the process was the packaging of Coke Blak. The failure to appeal to its consumers could have turned out to be catastrophic for the product.

Coca-Cola failed to leave the brand recognizable to its loyal consumers. Incorporating red into the label and enlarging the ‘Coca-Cola’ on the bottle would entice Coke drinkers to buy the drink and possibly inform the company on what should be done to perfect the taste. That brings me to my next point, to improve the quality of Coke Blak. Since Coca-Cola failed to do the necessary market research, they could have offered the product at a discount and encouraged consumers to go on a preset blog or call in to give their opinions.

This step would require monitoring and take even more time to get a completely finished product on the shelves, but a good thing is worth the effort and could prove to be profitable for Coca-Cola. This step would also be showing the customer that Coca-Cola values customer input and are willing to make the necessary changes to satisfy the demand of its consumers. The least innovative approach to this dilemma would be to totally get away from a carbonated coffee idea. From the success of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other coffee retailers, we know that consumers love their coffee.

From Coca-Cola’s success, we know that consumers love their cokes, but in this equation 1+1? 2. The coffee connoisseurs and coke lovers do not want a combination of the two. Coca-Cola could however branch out and gain a share of the coffee industry by venturing away from the carbonated beverage to produce a beverage for the enjoyment of coffee drinkers that still prefer to see the Coca-Cola name. V. Best Solution: Personally, I am a risk taker, so the challenge of combining the two appeals to me. However, there is no easy way for Coke to handle this.

Much work is needed on the part of the manufacturers and the sales & marketing team to ensure that the voices of the consumers are heard. A combination of the alternative solutions listed above is needed to make the promotion of Coke Blak more successful than its original release. By now knowing what caused the initial failure of Coke Blak, it would prove to be a less daunting task of combining a carbonated drink with a coffee flavor because the areas that need to be focused and prioritized are essentially already laid out.

Realizing that the Coca-Cola brand is not prepared to enter the coffee industry alone is the initial step towards improving Coke Blak. They would need to join forces with a well known, yet affordable coffee distributor, such as Folgers. Folgers is affordable and equipped with a variety of different blends that may present a better combination with coke. Coca-Cola would need to retain the largest share in this collaboration to preserve the name, while including Folgers on the label.

After extensive testing and the two companies feel that they have produced a quality product, they should bring in a control group made of individuals that enjoy both coke and coffee to get a response on the combination. Once the companies have received a positive response from their control group, they should move to packaging. Utilizing the well known red label and enlarging the ‘Coca-Cola’ on the bottle would entice loyal Coke drinkers to try the beverage. The drinks should be distributing in larger bottles, such as a 10 or 12 oz. The glass bottles would continue to attract the sophisticated consumer without the plastic shrink wrap.

This would allow the customer to see the drink and show confidence in the product. After mastering the packaging, the companies would then be able to move to the final phase of the product reproduction, the pricing. Coca-Cola and Folgers are both affordable brands and this should be a main factor when properly pricing Coke Blak. They would need to price this product in a way that remains affordable to the everyday convenience store shoppers. Overpricing would reduce their target market. They would have to price in a way that the consumer would choose their product over the many other competitors’ products.

A good starting price to consider would be $1. 89. This keeps the price comparable to its other products and less than the competitor’s products. VI. Conclusion: Coca-Cola failed to combine the two and may have presumably abandoned the idea of doing so. However, if they were up to the challenge of making another attempt to reproduce the product they would be able to take advantage and learn from their previous mistakes. In order to combine the two, coffee and coke, and maintain the “Coke effervescence with coffee essence”, Coca-Cola would need to focus on mastering the taste, packaging, and price of Coke Blak.

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