Coca-Cola banks on Chinese herbal medicine to shake-up beverage sector

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 11th August 2008

Coca-Cola, the world’s leading soft drink company, is looking to create the next big thing at their research centre in Beijing. Analysts are predicting that the project, which involves creating beverages with Chinese herbal medicine, could be as vital to the company’s future as the iconic mix of coca leaves and kola nuts has been to its past.

Coca-Cola announced the opening of the research centre in October last year but, until a recent tour provided for journalists, the details of what went on at the laboratory had been shrouded in secrecy. The centre is a part of the Coca-Cola’s long-term collaboration agreement with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and is a key part of their plans to establish themselves as a leading provider of ‘wellness’ beverages. “We see this center as an important step in strengthening our innovation pipeline for beverages that contribute to well-being,” said Dr Rhona Applebaum, Vice President, Chief Scientific and Regulatory Officer of The Coca-Cola Company. “This collaboration will ultimately help us bring the insights and benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine to consumers all over the world. As the world’s largest beverage company, we can add global reach and world-class marketing skills to help promote Chinese wisdom in preventive holistic health through new and innovative beverages.”

The tour provided for a select number of journalists offered few answers, with 40 people working in the laboratory, machines squeezing the juice out of medicinal plants and cell cultures being used to test traditional cures that have long been considered to slow the ageing process.

The Coca-Cola Company has also remained coy about when the first beverage created at the facility will be released.

With the current global interest in health and wellness food and beverage products, coupled with the present hype surrounding China due to the Olympics, it was thought that the first beverage from the centre would be released this year. All Coca-Cola will say is that they believe any new beverages will have global appeal.

The company, which has been noticing a lack of growth in traditional soft drinks, clearly has their sights set on the seemingly lucrative wellness sector, with the buzz about their Chinese research centre following their announcement of a new zero-calorie sweetener (in conjunction with Cargill) which will be used in some of their beverages.