Coke with fibre is coming to Japan, but don't expect to see it in China
On March 27, Coca-cola Japan will launch what's been described as the healthiest Coke ever. Or relaunch it, more accurately. A version of the drink was first sold there in 2009, which W. David Marx, a writer for CNN Travel, described as resembling “an ultra-sweet cola-flavoured jelly with a heavy dose of faux citrus and a biting carbonation.”
The original, which he said had a “gooiness that sticks in your throat like milk”, not only removed calories but added 1.7g of dietary fibre, which is believed to slow the absorption of sugar and fat. The drink was so filling that Marx offered “a remote high-five to anyone who can finish a whole bottle and eat another meal that day.” The new recipe, hitting shelves on March 27, contains five grams of indigestible dextrin.
While foreign press has been excited about the return of this ‘healthy’ cola, the product is not all that unique in Japan. Chiho Nishiguchi, from the Flamingo Tokyo office, told me that “This product is in the ‘tokuho’ category, which is a government approved drink for specialised health benefits.” Drinks labeled tokuho are tested to establish they are high in fibre, good for digestion or help slow tooth decay. The tokuho label has been applied to drinks including tea, coffee, cola and other sodas, and promises a bump in sales from health conscious consumers.
In China, there is no category comparable to tokuho. Consumers’ perceptions of healthy food and drinks are more confused and chaotic. For some, notions of healthy drinks derive from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Others’ understanding of healthy food and drink is quite ambiguous.
What is generally accepted in China, though, is that ingredients providing health benefits are supposed to come from nature. Nuts, beans, whey protein and powdered milk are common additions to drinks here, while there is little concern for the amount of sugar they contain.
A colleague in the Flamingo Shanghai office told me that even for something as commonly added and removed from drinks in the West as caffeine, “some Chinese consumers think natural, high-quality caffeine can deliver health benefits without the side-effects of other sources of caffeine”.
Chinese consumers are also interested in the addition of texture to their drinks, but this is more about mouth feel than nutrition. Sago balls and custard are popular additions to milk tea, for example, without promising any nutritional benefits.
With an ongoing boom in cross-boarder e-commence, products with strong health benefits are gradually feeding into China, especially from Japan. China may one day be ready for Coke Plus but, we suspect, not just yet.
- Article by Jane Zheng