The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Zero Vanilla Coke

Since I have been on a diet plan and lost all sorts of weight, I will admit that I have relied heavily on diet soda to get me through cravings for food. In its own way, Diet Coke and other diet soft drinks have essentially gotten me through a lot of rough spots - especially working on third shift.

Most of the time, I drank Diet Mountain Dew Code Red or Diet Pepsi, for the "sweetness" factor. Then, about two years ago, Coca-Cola came out with an amazing drink: Coca-Cola Zero. Coke Zero was a first for me when I tried it, because of one very simple factor: it tasted like regular Coke.

A lot of people shrug at this point, because they don't see the problem. For someone like me, who has routinely shunned drinking Diet Coke because of its notorious aftertaste, this was a godsend. Of course, Coke has made up for this a bit with Diet Coke Plus, but that's another story altogether.

After the product was out for a year, Coke decided to branch out into flavored versions of CZ - as they had with their main brand. Cherry Coke got a partner in Diet Cherry Coke and Cherry Coke Zero; and the re-released Vanilla Coke had its tag-along partner in Vanilla Coke Zero.

Now, maybe this is saying something about my Midwestern, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle-aged status, but Vanilla Coke Zero was just about the perfect drink for me. It had enough of a flavor as to be easily drinkable; it was, of course, a diet drink (no calories); and it had the taste of Coke.

You will notice, however, that I refer to it in the past tense. There's a reason: about two weeks ago, I noticed that VCZ had stopped appearing on the shelves of my local convenience stores, in the cases next to the other 20-ounce bottles. This didn't completely bother me, as I knew that it wasn't all that common of a drink. There were, after all, about two other "new" sodas that Coke had come out with (Diet Coke Plus, for one) in recent days, and there was a new push with the newly-redesigned contour bottle for Coke Classic and Coke Zero.

The problem was, there were now visible gaps in the case, next to where you'd expect VCZ to be (right next to Vanilla Coke). I started asking around to various retailers, about what was up with Vanilla Coke Zero - joking a bit about "they get ya addicted to something, then yank it off the shelves." As the days went on, it was apparent that it wasn't a retailer issue - it was an issue on Coke's side.

I called Coke's distribution company for the Midwest, and they explained what was going on: when a product isn't selling well in a particular format (2-liter, 1-liter, 20 ounce, cans, etc.), they will stop producing it and only produce it in a format in which it does sell. Apparently, Vanilla Coke Zero has been selling poorly in the 20-ounce bottle market and has been doing better in the 12-pack 12-ounce cans. So, simple economics - no more 20-ounce bottles of VCZ.

Now that I look back, I can see how it happened: there were a lot of coupons and discounts for VCZ out there over the summer, and I suspect that Coke didn't like how the drink performed with the coupons (the number of coupons that were redeemed probably didn't reach their expectations). If this is the case, I think Coke might be a bit short-sighted in their marketing plans. They should have left VCZ out there through, say, November and gotten retail numbers for product amounts, and then decided whether or not to pull it from the shelves.

Of course, it could be something as simple as the new contour bottle; they might not have geared up enough production of the new bottles to accommodate another Coke product like VCZ. If this is the case, I hope they re-introduce VCZ next year or next spring.

Until then, I'm stuck drinking it out of cans.