While Diet Coke Plus is an oft-overlooked brand within Coca-Cola’s vast portfolio of beverages, the Food and Drug Administration is keeping a close on eye on it.
The FDA issued a letter to Coke CEO Muhtar Kent earlier this month, stating that the brand’s nutrient claims are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Diet Coke Plus, launched in 2006, as “a good source of vitamins B3, B6 and B12, and the minerals zinc and magnesium,” per company press materials.
The letter asserts that the product is “misbranded” because it “bears the nutrient content claim ‘plus’ but does not comply with the regulations governing the use of this claim.”
Coke rep Scott Williamson said, “We take seriously the issues raised by the FDA in its letter. This does not involve any health or safety issues, and we believe the label on Diet Coke Plus complies with FDA’s policies and regulations. We will provide a detailed response to the FDA in early January.”
The letter adds: “the FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.” Additionally, it said the product does not state the identity of a “reference food and the percentage” thus it fails to meet the requirements for adding a “plus” claim.
The FDA’s claims are “absolutely ridiculous,” said Bill Sipper, senior partner at Cascadia Consulting, a food and beverage consultancy based in Ramsey, N.J. “They should worry about tracking our beef supply versus tracking the word ‘plus’ . . . Nobody really thinks they are getting their vitamins from Diet Coke.”
Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights, applauded the FDA. “It’s somewhat reassuring that some of these claims are being more vigorously questioned, with surely more of that to come under the expected new stewardship of the agency in the Obama administration. And it could have the beneficial side effect of encouraging the beverage companies to pursue more genuine innovation rather than cynical, and obvious, line extensions.”
Coke spent $16 million on U.S. advertising (not including online), per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, to support Diet Coke Plus last year under the tagline “Great taste has its benefits.” It has since shifted its focus to other brands like the successful Coke Zero and the enhanced water brand Vitaminwater. “When Coke Zero took off, they began to ignore things like Diet Coke Plus,” said Sipper. It spent a total of $8 million behind the small brand this year.