August 2, 2005

Coke plans sugar-free energy drink rollout in U.S.

By Paul Simao

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co., the world's largest soft
drink maker, said on Tuesday it planned to launch a sugar-free
version of its Full Throttle drink in a bid to capture a larger
share of the U.S. market for energy drinks.

The new drink, which will be called Sugar Free Full
Throttle, will be rolled out later this month in convenience
stores and other retail locations across the United States, the
company said.

The planned roll-out comes less than a year after Coke
introduced Full Throttle in the United States. The fledgling
drink has captured about 8 percent of the U.S. energy drink
market, but still trails Red Bull, the market leader.

In 2004, Red Bull had nearly 50 pct of the U.S. market for
energy drinks, according to Beverage Digest. Red Bull is owned
by Austrian-based Red Bull GmbH.

A diet version of Red Bull is already on sale.

The market for energy drinks, which typically contain
caffeine, vitamins and other ingredients to boost a person's
energy, has grown rapidly since the 1990s.

"The Full Throttle brand has consistently driven growth in
the energy drink category since its introduction, and Sugar
Free Full Throttle will keep our momentum going," said Mary
Herrera, director of marketing for sports and energy drinks in
Coke's North American unit.

The drink will be among a flurry of new products recently
launched by the Atlanta-based firm, which is in the midst of a
restructuring designed to sharpen its innovation and help
reignite sales, particularly of soft drinks.

The effort began last year when Neville Isdell took over as
Coke's chairman and chief executive.

New offerings in the U.S. market include a version of Diet
Coke sweetened with the popular sugar substitute Splenda, a
diet cola called Coke Zero and flavored versions of Coke's
popular Dasani bottled water brand.

"Coke's innovation pipeline this year has been very full
and very quick," said John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest,
who added that the roll-out of the sugar-free Full Throttle
drink made "perfect sense."

The innovation strategy, however, carries risks. If poorly
executed, the new drinks could cut into sales of existing
products or simply fail to find a niche among increasingly
picky consumers.

Shares of Coca-Cola rose 33 cents to $44.20 in midday
trading on the New York Stock Exchange.