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A team of technical experts is helping Coca-Cola North America launch breakthrough beverages in emerging categories – from kombuchas, to cultured ciders, to keto-friendly smoothies, to cold-brew coffees – in record time.

The Transformational Innovation Team partners with brands and business units to take new drinks in unfamiliar spaces to commercialization in a handful of months. A rotating group of specialists from Research and Development (R&D), Quality, Safety & Environmental Sustainability, Technical Commercialization and Scientific and Regulatory Affairs (SRA) is helping the company navigate uncharted territory by challenging existing approaches to innovation – from sourcing and seeking approval on new ingredients, to producing beverages in emerging categories, to bringing new brands to market – through an agile, test- and-learn launch model.

“We combine the best of what entrepreneurs do and the best of what Coca-Cola does,” explains team lead Susan Zaripheh. “Entrepreneurs dream of having the power of our brands and scale of our distribution network, and large global companies like Coke want to be able to innovate quickly, iteratively and stay
competitive in emerging spaces.”

Inspiring a mindset shift

This means challenging organizational processes and breaking down boundaries. “Capability isn’t an issue at Coca-Cola,” Zaripheh says. “Our talent and people are top notch. What we’re trying to do is inspire a mindset shift and push the company into new or emerging segments consumers want us to explore.”

The Transformational Innovation Team has partnered with Minute Maid to develop several breakthrough products in 2019, including Cidewinder, which boasts similar digestive health benefits as kombucha but with less sugar. The cultured juice brand, which leveraged a novel ingredient and process from a third-party company, is being tested in grocery and convenience store outlets in Texas and California.

“Cidewinder is an example of how we’re moving quickly, but deliberately, by running small market tests before investing significant time or resources,” Zaripheh said. “Some of the brands we’re helping to launch will not reach scale, but that’s the point of what we’re doing. We’re pushing the company to move faster than ever and to use real-time market data to make informed decisions and gain important learnings for the future.”

Following the consumer

Odwalla, meanwhile, tapped Zaripheh’s team to help develop a zero-sugar, keto-friendly smoothie using trending ingredients like MCT oil and coconut cream – bringing the first-of-its-kind offering in the Coca-Cola portfolio to life in less than six months.

“Our partnership with the Transformational Innovation Team has added tremendous value to our decision making,” said John Hackett, president, Minute Maid Business Unit. “With their support, we’ve been able to test emerging spaces quickly and gain real-world learnings. Direct guidance from the market enables us to focus our investments on ideas and innovations that strongly resonate with consumers.”

The team also partnered with Honest to launch two category-crossing innovations – Honest Kombucha and Honest Cold Brew Co”ee. Honest is building a master brand beyond its core tea business and, as part of that strategy, decided in 2019 to enter the fast-growing – and complex – kombucha segment. “Part of the Honest brand’s strategy is to ‘own the fridge’ of the
Millennial family by offering lower- sugar, organic beverages for all occasions,” said Rafael Acevedo, vice president, Tea Portfolio, Coca-Cola North America. “Given the rising popularity of kombucha, it made sense for a brand known for making tea to enter this space.”

The Transformational Innovation Team helped Honest enter this space by end of the year in a limited, 20-store test, then quickly aligned on a brand proposition and execution strategy. Results are expected in early 2020.

‘Being nimble doesn’t mean cutting corners’

The teams also partnered to secure all required approvals in time to produce and ship samples of Honest Cold Brew Coffee to the Natural Products Expo East tradeshow in only 10 weeks. The brand received great feedback from attendees.

“That project was not a product development challenge – it was a regulatory and food safety challenge,” explained Zaripheh, a food scientist with a PhD in nutrition. “Low-acid beverages like coffee have significant food safety and regulatory hurdles which can take a ton of time, but we were able to do even more due diligence by taking a different approach.”

Acevedo called the collaboration “a great example of how the company is approaching innovation differently and prioritizing agility to achieve effcient results.”

However, Zaripheh insists, the team takes steps to move quickly without compromising safety or quality, or taking due-diligence shortcuts. “Being nimble doesn’t mean cutting corners… it means approaching challenges from different angles and finding ways to parallel-path and operate with flexibility,” she added. “We hear a lot about speed to market these days. But speed by itself isn’t a competitive advantage – anyone can go fast. The key is identifying potential big bets, starting small and learning before making significant investments and launching at scale. That’s what we do.”

Creating a ripple effect

This group of “intrapraneurs” is on a mission to create a ripple effect by sharing learnings with Coca-Cola North America teams leading innovation projects across the system.

“Power is not having one team dedicated to transformational innovation, but seamlessly implementing learnings and frameworks across the organization and fueling new capability to drive growth,” said Simon Yeung, SVP, Innovation and Stewardship, Coca-Cola North America, noting that the team consulted and shared learnings with the sparkling water team spearheading the AHA brand launch. “Our goal is to get the system to move faster and deliver more disruptive innovation… to take on meatier projects and platform-able ideas and bring them to life.”

Global consumption of ready-to-drink coffee reached 5,500 million litres in 2017, a 19 % increase since 2012, according to a new report from global food and drink experts Zenith. Further growth is forecast, with sales expected to exceed 6,600 million litres in 2022.

“Japan is by far the biggest market, with 55 % of global volume, and is relatively mature with a significant proportion heated in vending machines,” commented Zenith Chairman Richard Hall.

“Much of the dynamism is coming from North America, with annual growth of 13 % and the introduction of many new trends such as cold brew, nitrogen infusion, carbonation and black coffees,” he continued. “Iced coffees are also gaining ground worldwide from low levels because of their taste, refreshment, convenience and quality.”

In terms of regional shares, Asia Pacific leads with 83 % of total volume, followed by North America and Europe with 10 % and 3 % respectively. Consumption has increased across all regions since 2012, spurred by new product development and increasing interest in healthier beverage choices.

Individual solutions, healthy added value and unique Multi-Sensory Experiences®

Whether for children, adults, health-conscious consumers or the generation of “foodies”, at Biofach in Nuremberg, Doehler will present innovative products and product applications that are explicitly tailored to the individual needs of the various consumer groups for the first time.

Organic products for the whole family

Many consumers increasingly expect that products should be sustainable, fair trade or organic and these factors strongly influence their purchasing decisions. At Biofach 2018, Doehler will present a diverse range of concepts for the entire family which are in line with this trend. These include delicious smoothies made from high-quality fruits and vegetables and fruit nectars without added sugar which are particularly suitable for children, or fruity NFC juices and refreshing fruit splashes. In addition to high-quality conventional ingredients, the company produces a comprehensive portfolio of certified organic ingredients at 14 sites worldwide. In this context, Doehler benefits from its vertical integration comprising a worldwide network of raw materials, its own fruit and vegetable processing in the growing regions and agro-sustainability programmes around the globe. Doehler’s portfolio also includes a broad variety of SAI FSA-verified as well as Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and Fairtrade-certified raw materials.

Naturally healthy – organic products with functional added value

“Superfoods” are literally on everyone’s lips. At Biofach, Doehler will display innovative product concepts that combine pure indulgence and functional added value, such as a delicious apple acai ginger “Juice Shot” for a healthy boost on the go or a fruity-fresh chia smoothie that creates unique Multi-Sensory Experiences® with the extra-crunchy chia seeds. The “Savoury Snack Drink” is also full of valuable vitamins and nutrients. With various vegetables and a refreshing note of mint, this savoury snack makes a healthy meal when you’re on the road.

Greater variety and new taste experiences for organic products

Doehler is an expert for entirely new taste experiences based on innovative food and beverage concepts. Thanks to its integrated approach, the company provides everything from a single source – from the field to the supermarket shelf. At Biofach, Doehler will present a varied ingredient portfolio and innovative concepts which breathe new life into organic products.

Doehler will display fascinating concepts which meet adult consumers’ wishes for diverse and more natural soft drinks with less sweetness. The organic tea beverage “Peach-Lemon Black Tea”, for example, wins over consumers with its authentic “freshly brewed tea” taste. To meet the growing demand for beverages tailored to an adult taste profile, Doehler offers a wide range of herb and spice extracts such as ginger, cardamom, lavender or peppermint which create a unique signature taste. Doehler also has access to unique and tailored raw materials, which allows for traceability throughout the entire supply chain.

Coffee remains among the most popular beverages for adults and Cold Brew Coffee is one of the growing trends in this segment. Whether enjoyed pure or mixed with milk – cold brew coffee is much less bitter and acidic than the hot version and is characterised by fruity, caramel and chocolate flavours since it is prepared in a gentle process with no heat at all. Doehler has developed a unique process to capture the special flavours of cold brew coffee, which protects the entire flavour profile and makes it possible to create particularly authentic beverage and food concepts.

In Nuremberg, Doehler will also be presenting its comprehensive portfolio of organic fruit and vegetable ingredients, which can be used for many other creative food and beverage compositions. The company’s range of certified organic ingredients includes NFC juices, juice concentrates and purées in traditional flavours such as apple, sour cherry or blackcurrant as well as more exotic flavours such as white guava, grapefruit or mango, which create new taste experiences for organic products.