In the mid 1990s, the big craze for soft drink companies was to combine their beverages with coffee. Thus we saw a ton of products with this odd combination: Pepsi Kona, Pepsi Cappuccino, Java Cola, Café Cola, and others (mostly in isolated test markets). The initiative failed miserably. Apparently, Coke never got the memo. Enter Coca-Cola BlāK.
When you first visit the Coca-Cola BlāK website, a voice quotes the following:
Experience the fusion of Coke effervescence with coffee essence.
Coca-Cola BlāK is a premium beverage that will inspire your mind and refresh your mood.
With that in mind, you get the feeling right away the Coke is full of themselves. This drink was announced in late 2005 and was actually released in France back in January before the U.S. debut on April 3. It’s branded as a “carbonated fusion beverage”, but really it’s Coke flavored with coffee.
Apparently not learning anything from the crash-and-burn of the mid-calorie drinks (Coke C2, Pepsi Edge), Coke decided to make Coca-Cola BlāK… a mid-calorie drink! (Are the folks in Atlanta really that dumb?). Along with the use of high fructose corn syrup (remember, this is America… we don’t use sugar), BlāK is sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K). This results in an 8-oz. bottle having 45 calories vs. the 100 for a regular Coke. However, at a price point of $1.50-$2.00 a bottle, it’s a pretty big ripoff. I’ve only seen it bundled in 4-packs so far, but I would assume that you could buy it individually as well.
The U.S. and French versions of this drink differ. According to reports, the U.S. version is sweeter and more caramel-like, leaning more towards the soft drink side of the spectrum. In contrast, the French version has a strong coffee flavor, which many say balances the drink better. It also uses sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. The French also got a cooler looking bottle, which has been used in a lot of the marketing in the States. The primary difference is the bottle smoothness and cap. The French bottle is sleek with an old-school pop-off cap. The U.S. version uses the 8-oz. glass bottles you always see Coke packaged in around Christmas… with a shrink-wrap decal around it to give it a distinctive look. It has a twist-off cap.
As I don’t drink coffee and am not a fan of diet soft drinks, I asked Amy to review this beverage, since she’s the coffee lover. She took the 4-pack to work with her and shared the drink with some of her coworkers. Their reaction? “Why would you buy this?” For the price and size of the beverage, you are better off purchasing a cup of coffee if you really need that fix. If you are a cola drinker, you probably would buy a real bottle of Coke or something. While blending the two worlds is a unique novelty, most felt it wasn’t something that they would go out of their way to buy. This opinion has been shared in reviews by others as well.
Additionally, given Amy’s passionate hatred of any drink that contains artificial sweeteners, she was put off by the aspartame and Ace-K. The drink was enjoyable at first, but once those associated aftertastes kicked in, forget it! Apparently these views don’t jive with what Coke wrote in their initial press release:
Press Release: December 7, 2005
Coca-Cola BlāK is an invigorating and stimulating blend that has a perfect balance of the effervescent taste sensation of Coca-Cola and natural flavors, with real coffee. The lightly carbonated, mid-calorie beverage, which is designed to appeal to adult consumers, is yet another example how The Coca-Cola Company reaches out to new audiences and addresses new beverage occasions.
“Coca-Cola BlāK is not just a flavor extension. It is a blend of unique Coke refreshment with the true essence of coffee and has a rich smooth texture and has a coffee-like froth when poured. We believe we have created a new category of soft drink – an adult product in a carbonated beverage – and a whole new drinking experience. This brand is ideal for any part of the day when people are looking for renewed energy or simply to take a break,” said Marc Mathieu, vice president, Global Core Brands, The Coca-Cola Company.
I ended up trying the drink as well, just to see what it was like. It was… different, to say the least. The coffee taste was there, but it wasn’t very strong. In fact, in my experience it somewhat masked the artificial sweeteners. Then again, since my taste buds aren’t really used to coffee, how would I know? It was a drink that felt like it should be warm, not cold. It was just an odd blend of flavors in your mouth. Didn’t hate it. Didn’t like it.
Overall, I scratch my head at the whole thing. Coke is trying to be “cool” with the way the beverage is marketed (or even spelled: BlāK). They have seen market share drop on their core beverage over time (as has everyone else). But unlike Pepsi, which has diversified businesses to boost revenues while soft drink sales decline (such as Gatorade, Frito Lay, Quaker Oats, Tropicana, etc.), Coke is relying on turning around their beverage component to make things happen.
Coca-Cola BlāK isn’t going to help that effort.