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Soft Drink Variations Around The World: Thinking Global, Acting Local

A can of Coca-Cola Light in Beijing, China

Ever tried Coca-Cola Light? Maybe it tastes like Diet Coke. Well, that’s because it’s the same drink that happens to be marketed with different names depending on the region it’s being sold. But what about Coca-Cola Light in China? If you do happen to visit the world’s second most populous country (yes, India now has the top spot!) and get your hands on a can of Coca-Cola Light, you’ll likely notice a much saltier taste. Perhaps it’s overpowering at the beginning but becomes less noticeable as you drink it.

The difference in taste of what you may be used to when drinking Diet Coke/Coca-Cola Light in different countries is derived from two different elements: water supplies and business strategy. The chemical composition of water differs considerably around the world, from mineral content to pH levels, and so does the treatment depending on what impurities are present in the water. Even if steps are taken to standardize the taste of a drink around the world, subtle differences in taste will persist.

The second element, business strategy, is a reflection of the phrase, “Think global, Act local”. Soft drink manufacturers want to maintain uniformity of taste for a particular drink regardless of where it’s sold. There’s no point having Coca-Cola Light taste completely different in Mexico and India. If that were the case it’d be better of to brand them with different names. Instead soft drink manufacturers likely will create minor differences in taste to suit the preferences of the target market. Again referring to China, we can use Arctic Ocean as an example.

A can of Arctic Ocean, a mandarin-flavoured soft drink in China
Arctic Ocean, a mandarin-flavoured soft drink produced China
A can of Arctic Ocean, a mandarin-flavoured soft drink in China

Arctic Ocean is a mandarin flavoured soft drink produced in China. Fanta and Sunkist are well-known globally manufactured orange flavoured soft drinks that many people are familiar with. But Arctic Ocean isn’t simply a clone of other soft drinks. Actually it appears Arctic Ocean was first produced in 1936, four years before Fanta was first manufactured.

Artic Ocean provides a hint of an orange/mandarin taste. Perhaps the decision to have a subtle taste is derived from local preferences in China, a country that is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of tea – a drink that is generally considered a mild beverage. One can notice a similar trend with other drinks, for example, Coca-Cola Zero, which appears to have a smoother and less overpowering flavour than its counterparts in other countries.

A bottle of Coca-Cola Zero in China
Coke Zero in China has a milder taste than in other countries.

The decision to think global and act local is something multinational businesses have been doing for quite some time. Taking into consideration the tastes and preferences of the target market can be the difference between a successful product launch and a flop. Today one can see numerous examples of the world’s largest brands putting it into action, for example Burger King, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s in Indonesia offer rice dishes with their burgers and pizzas.

Burger King order page on Grab, Jakarta, Indonesia
Burger King adapts its menu for different countries.

We’re living in an increasingly interconnected world facilitated by growing access to the internet since the 1990s, however as major brands such as Coca-Cola and Burger King have shown, businesses still require and thrive on strategies that help them meet the preferences of local markets.

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