On the very same day last week, two major consumer packaged goods companies announced they would be introducing reduced-sugar products to the marketplace. The Coca-Cola Co. will roll out C2, a cola with half the sugar, calories and carbs as regular Coke, while Kellogg's will be offering Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops with one-third less sugar than their original versions. It should be mentioned that these announcements come a few weeks after PepsiCo announced it will introduce Pepsi Edge, its own mid-calorie cola later this summer (though C2 will be first to market in the United States).
More than a year in research and development, C2 is going to be positioned between original Coke and Diet Coke. Presumably, the same argument could be made for the Kellogg's initiative, though the sugar-free version of Frosted Flakes would have to be Corn Flakes. The extensions seem logical at first glance, but the deeper question that needs to be considered is how far companies should go in pursuing "consumer demand."
From a manufacturing standpoint, these types of brand foldouts are pretty simple affairs: some tinkering with formulation, new graphics and updated Nutrition Facts panels. There's also all the savings on sugar, not to mention the rewards of being portrayed as a responsible category leader who is proactive in providing healthier alternatives to the American consumer. The new products might attract additional consumers who shied away from the full-calorie and diet extremes. But more likely, the mid-calorie options will siphon off existing diet-conscious consumers who want to cheat a little, or full-calorie folks who feel guilty.
As always, the consumer side of the equation is much more complicated. In the press release, Coke's chairman praised consumers as "the true architects of this idea." Well, consumers might be the first to say they want more choices, but then react with a slacked jaw when asked precisely what they want. Very few of them truly have a clue -- the rest are just trying to hold on. Today's world is confusing, anxious and vaguely menacing. The headlines seem to be saying that all people are overweight, overworked and over their heads in debt.
In short, it's the consumers who have to become more responsible in limiting their sugar, calorie and carb intakes. Now, faced with even more choices -- some might say too many -- consumers only become distracted and take the easy way out. When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, there is no option but to eat sensibly, exercise and take responsibility.
Retailers will have to play smart with these multiple, mid-range line extensions. There will be more to come, especially as public opinion continues to pin the blame for obesity and related dietary maladies on food manufacturers and purveyors. Outside of the obvious benefits of accepting the various allowances that come with such introductions, there's really little to cheer. Shelf space is already at a premium, so something else will likely have to go -- like those boxes of Sugar Smacks or cans of Jolt Cola my generation grew up with.