Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

What does Coca-Cola's ‘Vitamin C’ play herald?

And, what types of brands/segments are best poised to take this suddenly important proposition forward?

Thanks to the Coronavirus, we now have textiles that claim to have anti-viral properties, ice cream with turmeric in it, and paint makers and personal care brands making hand sanitisers. The latest addition to this list comes from Coca-Cola, under its brand Minute Maid.

The two new Minute Maid variants - Minute Maid Nutri Force and Minute Maid Vita Punch claim to be packed with Vitamin C, and fortified with vitamins and minerals that help in cognitive development and functioning. The messaging is clear, these products intend to help boost immunity, aided by these vitamins and minerals.

Minute Maid Nutri Force and Minute Maid Vita Punch
Minute Maid Nutri Force and Minute Maid Vita Punch

However, immunity is something that has to be built over time, there is no 'one shot' solution for an improved immune system. If a shampoo claims to cure dandruff, a person can see visible results within a stipulated time period, but immunity is an entirely different ballgame; one that involves slow work over a period of time, often with no visible results in sight.

How credible is it then, when the manufacturer of an aerated drink attempts to claim a stake in the 'immunity' pie with these new products? What does such a play mean for the beverage and FMCG sector in India? We spoke to experts to find out.

Edited excerpts:

Kumar Deb Sinha, executive vice president, Dentsu Aegis Network (15 years experience creating content for FMCG companies)

Coca Cola’s play into this sector is both strategic and topical. It reminds me of a Colgate Vedshakti campaign I worked on a few years ago. The aim of the campaign was to arrest the growth of Patanjali’s toothpaste by countering them on their core proposition of natural ingredients.

The larger thought being addressing consumer’s need for traditional Indian ingredients which we inherently believe are healthy and strengthen immunity. Chyawanprash as a product has been built on the same belief.

Even now, people don’t know when the vaccine for the coronavirus will come and even when it does there’s no guarantee that it will be a complete solution to end the pandemic.

So as of now, the only way to fight the virus is to build your immunity; so its not a surprise that many brands are going to talk about this as a selling point.

Kumar Deb Sinha
Kumar Deb Sinha

I believe Minute Maid is the right brand from Coca Cola as they have always spoken about real fruits, using the pulp of the fruit, and they’ve used messaging that suggests that you get the same benefits as eating the fruit when you consume the beverage.

From that perspective, it's not surprising why Coca Cola has uses Minute Maid for this brand extension. Building immunity is going to be a buzzword for some time to come, until we have a cure for COVID. I think that’s a smart product play from Coke. It’s also a smart move as they have realized consumers are on the lookout for products/brands that help build immunity.

A brand that has a legacy of building immunity stands a better chance of taking this segment forward. That’s because you don’t have to build the context of your product from scratch, it’s already there in our memory. For example, Dabur, Baidyanath, and other brands who have been talking about immunity through honey, chyawanprash and other traditional products.

Companies like Glaxo Smith Kline which have products like Horlicks and Boost in their portfolio, could also come up with immunity building products. Not directly a medicine but more of an additive to improve health.

"If you look at both Coca Cola and Pepsi, they are trying to pivot from aerated drinks offering to health drink offering."
Kumar Deb Sinha

Customers today are smart and they can see through marketing gimmicks. A brand should stay away from this segment if what they’re offering does not seamlessly fit in with their overall brand portfolio. If you look at both Coca Cola and Pepsi, they are trying to pivot from aerated drinks offering to health drink offering. Hence the newly launched products make immense sense for them.

K Vaitheeswaran, co-founder, AGAIN drinks, and a consultant

It’s not surprising that Coca-Cola is making a play in this segment. Considering the times we live in, immunity is a code which is easily understood. Brands are using visuals of ‘shields’ which protect a person from the virus to give the consumers a sense of safety. This is, however, far from the truth.

"A vaccine for the virus will create synthetic immunity which is, in a sense, a quick fix – instant gratification. However, since a vaccine isn’t available yet, the consumers’ best bet is to build immunity slowly."
K Vaitheeswaran

The coronavirus has people everywhere panicking because they understand how vulnerable their bodies are. A vaccine for the virus will create synthetic immunity which is, in a sense, a quick fix – instant gratification. However, since a vaccine isn’t available yet, the consumers’ best bet is to build immunity slowly – with the foods and beverages they consume.

K Vaitheeswaran
K Vaitheeswaran

Coca-Cola saw this opportunity to stake its claim in the immunity segment via Minute Maid, and it took it. Its original product (aerated drinks) can’t make such claims. Hence, they took the vitamins and minerals route to market their products.

You also have to keep in mind that Coca-Cola is one of the most well-known brands in the world. In India, people may not be aware that Minute Maid belongs to Coca-Cola, but there’s more awareness of the brand in other countries.

As far as taking the immunity beverage segment forward goes, it’s possible for brands like Complan and Horlicks, which have a long-standing association with improving health and immunity.

In normal circumstances, Coca-Cola would’ve had a hard time in the ‘healthy’ space, and it would’ve been a slow, hard climb for them. The Coronavirus has acted as an excuse to help it accelerate its movement in this space.

Ronita Mitra, founder, Brand Eagle Consulting, and a business consultant (Ex-marketing manager at Marico and J&J)

Since the start of COVID, boosting your immunity has become the most important health concern. Consumers have been seeking out any form of medication/food/exercise that will boost their immunity.

Food is a great source of immunity since it's had several times a day. Launching a food/beverage product that will boost immunity is, therefore, a huge opportunity today.

Ronita Mitra
Ronita Mitra

And, the relevance will not end with COVID, but stay with consumers for a long time since attitudinal and behavioural shifts being caused amongst consumers will be semi-permanent, if not permanent.

Since Coca-Cola already had a range of fruit-based nutrition drinks under the Minute Maid brand name, extending the range with immunity boosting variants will command a lot of credibility.

Any food and beverage brand which already has a heritage of having nutrition/heath-based benefits can look at immunity boosters as an opportunity today.

However, force fitting immunity boosting products if the brand has not had an associated value set and product range on the plan of nutrition, will struggle to command credibility and, therefore, the consumers' attention.

Vani Gupta Dandia, marketing led business consultant, CherryPeachPlum (ex-category director, Indian snacks and foods,Pepsico)

As far as Coca-Cola is concerned, it appears that it is being opportunistic and taking advantage of the coronavirus situation to release these products. Right now, in the home space, people are looking for germ-killing properties and people are searching for immunity boosting in the food and beverage space.

"In the home space, people are looking for germ-killing properties and people are searching for immunity boosting in the food and beverage space"
Vani Gupta Dandia

But consumers are going to wise up to this at some point, if every marketer out there is making the claim of boosting immunity. Minute Maid has always used the visual iconography of natural fruit pulp, goodness, etc. It makes sense for it to attempt to extend the brand in this direction.

Vani Gupta Dandia
Vani Gupta Dandia

Whereas Coca Cola, Limca etc have always taken an indulgent and refreshing positioning and Minute Maid has always been about natural goodness.

If you take the example of the ‘organic’ or ‘Ayurveda’ sector, there is a serious trust deficit because nobody knows how genuine the ingredients, etc., are. That might happen with the 'immunity' claim too when people wise up.

If a company like, say, Raw Pressery claimed to make immunity boosting juices, I would actually believe it because there is heightened awareness on the immunity front and people know what the brand stands for as well. If a brand known for indulgences claims to release an immunity boosting product (such as an ice cream, or a ‘bhujia’), then I would be seriously sceptical...