Coke Product Managers Seek New Tastes

Coke product managers are searching for new drinks to create
Coke product managers are searching for new drinks to create
Image Credit: Mikhail Esteves

Ah, to be a product manager at Coke-Cola. Would that not be the best job ever? Coke is a huge company, it has a very large market share, and every customer that you might ever want to capture has already heard about about your product. What more could a product manager ask for? Coke has been focused on creating sugary drinks even as the rest of the world started to shift its drinking habits to water and healthier options. Coke’s sales were starting to stall and this called for a change in their product development definition. What could their product managers do to turn things around?

The Search For New Drinks

The Coke product managers realized that they had a problem on their hands. For a long time there have been different types of drink products that have been popular in other parts of the world that Coke would not have considered offering. However, that has all changed. As an example of what is now possible, the Coke product managers in India have created a new product. The drink is based on chunky mango juice and is called “Maaza Chunky”. Creating new products like this is something that can be put onto a product manager resume.

Last year alone, Coke launched 500 new products. This was a 25% increase over the number of products that the company had launched the previous year. These new launches are starting to help Coke sell more product by volume. They have introduced a number of new products internationally including: salty lemon tonic water in France and Belgium, a sesame and walnut drink in China, whey shakes in Brazil, and cucumber flavored Sprite in Russia. Not every product that they introduce will be a success. This is why the Coke product managers are being careful to not fully commit to any new product until they see that it can be popular. They also have to be willing to remove the products that just don’t seem to be working.

If the Coke product managers are going to be successful in finding new products that will meet the needs of the market, then they are going to have to speed things up and get more new products out in front of customers. Currently Coke makes more than half of its revenue from its international operations. This is the part that it wants to spend more time and money on research and development of new drinks. Taking India as an example, it used to take over a year to get a new product from the labs onto the shelves, now this has been reduced to only four months.

What Coke Will Do In The Future

The Coke product managers have spread the word throughout the company. The firm is to go out and create new products and new businesses that are better turned to the needs of their local markets. What the Coke product managers need to keep in mind is that if they focus too much on their new brands, they may run into problems. Over at Pepsi they’ve recently relearned this lesson when they focused too much on a new fruit juice product that they had created called “Izze Fusions”. The result was that when they shifted advertising money and shelf space to the new brand, sales of their core legacy brands all fell.

A bright spot for the Coke product managers has always been Japan. In Japan, Coke has always been able to bring new products to market quicker and more frequently than it has been able to so elsewhere. As examples of what they have been able to do in Japan Coke has recently launched their first alcoholic drink and a laxative version of Sprite. This has been in contrast to the other international Coke business units which tend to rely more on products that have been developed for the American market.

The hope is that a new drink product developed for one country can be transformed into a hit in another country. The Coke product managers like to call this concept “lift and ship”. An example of doing this occurred when Coke launched Coca-Cola Plus Coffee in Australia. The product was such a hit there that they then went ahead and made small changes to it before launching it in Turkey and Vietnam. As a note of caution for Coke’s product managers, the same type of product was launched in both Europe and the U.S., where it didn’t do well, and ended up getting pulled.

What All Of This Means For You

Being a product manager at Coke would seem to be a great job to have. The company is big, their products are well known, and everyone likes them. However, as customer’s tastes have been shifting over time, Coke has seen its sales start to decrease and this has started to put pressure on the Coke product managers to look at their product manager job description and come up with new product ideas.

The Coke product managers have realized that they need to take a look at what types of drinks are popular in international local locations and tap into these. The India branch of Coke has used this to create a mango flavored drink. Coke increased the number of products that they launched last year to over 500. They need to understand that not every product will be a success and if they don’t work out, then they need to be pulled. The key to launching new products is to be able to do it very quickly. The Coke product managers need to be careful and not focus too much on only their new products. Coke’s operations in Japan have always been a bright spot for new product introductions. The Coke product managers would like to be able to introduce a new product, have it be a success, and then take that product to other international markets.

The good news is that the Coke product managers have gotten the news – customer tastes are changing and they need to change what they are offering. There are no easy answers to these questions. Using their international arms to create new locally-based drinks is a great idea. Now the Coke product managers are just going to have to keep their eyes open and see where their next big hit shows up!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How should the Coke product managers determine if a local drink product would work in other countries?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? When lunch time rolls around (or perhaps dinner), there is something about grabbing a meal that you can hold in your hand that can be oh so satisfying. When it comes time for us to have a sandwich there are a lot of different options for us: we can make our own or we can go out and buy one. If we decide to go out and get a sandwich, then where should we go? Restaurants that make sandwiches are pretty easy to set up and so there are a lot of them out there. The product managers at one such restaurant, Potbelly’s, are struggling to come up with ways to change their product development definition in order to make their sandwich different from all the others.