China’s Coke is a century-old giant? A battle to reject the “double standard” ingredient list

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Text / Yang Ming

Source/Pole Business (ID: jdsy2020)

The century-old cola war is essentially the battle of the ingredient list.

In 1885, John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Georgia, USA, extracted a substance called cocaine from the coca tree and formulated the first generation of “fat boy happy water” – Coca-Cola. The “Coca” in its trademark comes from coca. Cola, which comes from kola nut containing another stimulant, caffeine.

A year later, Coca-Cola appeared on the market. The addictive drink quickly went viral, well ahead of Pepsi, which was founded more than a decade later.

Over time, people became aware of the dangers of cocaine—cocaine is now recognized as the most dangerous drug in the world, but it wasn’t until 1929 that Coca-Cola gave up cocaine in its formula, but it still contained some other components of coca bush, as well as coffee because.

Still, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Pepsi, the “rival for life”, offered a real challenge to Coca-Cola: through a marketing campaign called the “Pepsi Challenge”, it let the public blindly test which cup tasted better. Blind test statistics show that most people prefer Pepsi, and many users have “betrayed” Coca-Cola.

The collective panicked Coca-Cola executives came to the conclusion that Pepsi was “sweeter” after a similar blind test. In the era of no resistance to the temptation of sweets, Coca-Cola began to make a big fuss about the formula under great pressure, and successively released decaffeinated versions of Coke and Diet Coke to meet market demand.

“Shuangle” has established the main theme of the competition for decades, and has divided and monopolized the global beverage market including China. Although Coca-Cola and Pepsi often use different “formulas” in the Chinese market and foreign countries, they can still trace the essence. It was the cocaine addiction formula that gave Coca-Cola a lead, and the “new ingredients” that allowed Pepsi to catch up with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has once again stabilized its position through ingredients.

The war will not stop. It’s just that the challenge opponent “Shuangle” faces this time is a domestic brand from China-recently, after Yuanqi Forest launched a sugar-free cola product internally code-named “YYDS” (forever god), many interpretations said that , Yuanqi Forest will face the “double music” and break the monopoly of foreign brands of cola.

But no matter how the outside world interprets it, for Yuanqi Forest, which used “0 sugar, 0 fat and 0 calories” to open up the situation before, the only thing that can be done in the face of a century-old “Shuangle” is to pass the “ingredients” as in the original “Shuangle” war. “Revolution”, to break the “double standard” prejudice, and win a place for domestic cola.

The Coke “New Ingredients” Revolution

In the eyes of many people, the silent disappearance of domestic cola for many years may not be due to differences in craftsmanship, quality, and technology, but to lose in commercial secret battles and product marketing.

Before Yuanqi Forest, there were not many domestic cola brands facing the challenge of “Shuangle”. Laoshan Cola, Happiness Cola, Tianfu Cola, Fenhuang Cola, Shaolin Cola, Very Cola, and Yinlu Cola were once famous in the 20th century.

For example, “Tianfu Cola” was launched in 1981. Chongqing Beverage Factory used herbs such as white peony root, angelica root, and rehmannia glutinosa as raw materials. beverage products.

In 1985, Tianfu Cola was designated as a state banquet drink and was known as the “famous drink of the generation”, which shows its brand weight. In 1998, its bottling plants reached 108, with an output value of more than 300 million yuan, occupying 75% of the cola market in China – Coca-Cola and Pepsi which have entered the Chinese market. In 1990, it also went abroad, opening the door to the European, American, Japanese and Russian markets.

However, after cooperating with Pepsi in 1994, Tianfu Coke was hidden by Pepsi, and it was not re-launched until 2016 after all the hard work to get back the formula, craftsmanship and trademark, but it is difficult to regain the glory of 23 years ago.

Similar to Tianfu Cola, in the famous “Two Le Flooded Seven Armies Incident” in 1994, many domestic brands, including Arctic Ocean and Laoshan Cola, were acquired by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and most of them could not escape the fate of disappearing. “Shuangle” took advantage of the situation to monopolize the Chinese cola beverage market.

The resulting situation is that for other domestic beverage brands, for more than ten years, they can only silently accumulate strength in the “Shuangle” monopoly, expand with difficulty, and wait for the arrival of the east wind.

In 2019, Dongfeng finally arrived. The State Council promotes the implementation of the “Healthy China Action (2019-2030)”, which sets the recommended standard for the daily intake of sugar per capita. Under the trend of sugar-free beverages, the consumption of 0-sugar and sugar-substituting products has exploded.

Among them, the most typical story is the vitality forest established in 2016. Under the concept of 0 sugar, 0 calories and 0 fat, it used erythritol and sparkling water to quickly occupy the market, built its own factories and supply chain channels, and launched Alien in succession. After the introduction of human electrolyte water, mineral water and other products, it has opened up new growth space in the beverage market and has become a “thorn in the eye” of foreign beverage giants.

However, from the perspective of vitality forest, if you want to build a more complete beverage system, you need to enter the huge market of carbonated beverages, that is, cola. From a grander perspective, it is also necessary to have new domestic brands to carry the banner of domestic cola against “Shuangle”.

The difference is that compared with the bloody battle between Pepsi and Coca-Cola decades ago, on the one hand, the selling point has changed from sugar to sugar-free, and the healthy eating style has completely affected the food and beverage industry; on the other hand, more and more domestic consumers are also Realize that traditional cola contains potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid and other additives, and long-term drinking is very harmful to health.

This means that if Yuanqi Forest wants to officially enter the Coke market, it needs to redefine the formula of Coke-at least, compared with Coca-Cola, which has remained unchanged for a hundred years with a secret formula, it needs to go through the “revolution of ingredient list” to produce products that are more in line with New products with higher demands from consumers.

Judging from the ingredients list previously announced by Yuanqi Forest, compared with the popular sugar-free cola on the market, “Yuanqi Cola” uses the natural sugar substitute erythritol instead of aspartame, and does not contain sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, etc. Chemical preservatives, chemical synthetic additives such as phosphoric acid are completely removed, and artificial caffeine is replaced with yerba mate extract.

According to the published ingredients of Coca-Cola Zero Soda, it contains water, food additives (carbon dioxide, caramel color, phosphoric acid, caffeine, aspartame (containing phenylalanine), acesulfame potassium, sucralose, sodium benzoate, sodium citrate , Edible flavors. In addition, Coca-Cola sparkling water ingredients that also claim to be sugar, 0 fat, and 0 calories contain potassium sorbate.

Comparing the two, it can be seen that the replacement of the controversial aspartame with erythritol in the vitality formula table is still expected by the outside world, but the biggest change is the complete removal of preservative ingredients.

Behind the Controversy about the Harm of Preservatives

Antiseptics, an existence with a long history and throughout human development – as early as 2000 BC, Egyptians used antiseptic spices to treat mummies.

From the point of view of food, the role of preservatives is to solve the shortcomings of short protection time, destruction of original nutrients and flavor. In ancient times, people replaced preservatives with natural methods such as smoking, air-drying, and refrigeration, but the effect was not good.

In modern times, industrialization has given birth to widely used chemical food preservatives. Scientists discovered phenol from the coal tar refining industry. This bactericidal substance was once used in some foods, but due to its excessive toxicity, phenol derivatives, benzoic acid and its derivative sodium benzoate, were discovered one after another. Food preservatives.

Since then, food preservatives such as sorbic acid, paraben, sulfurous acid and its salts have also been gradually discovered and applied in the food industry.

The antibacterial effect of preservatives is indeed remarkable, and the preservatives added within the scope of national standards are all legal and compliant. Moreover, this is a relatively small potential market. Taking sodium benzoate as an example, it was estimated many years ago that the market size will reach 1.45 billion yuan in 2025.

With the change of times, the international controversy over the safety of synthetic preservatives has become more and more serious. It is believed that no matter what kind of synthetic preservatives, if they are excessively ingested for a long time, they will cause damage to the human body, especially children and pregnant women. For this reason, the European child protection agency believes that sodium benzoate should not be used in children’s food, and Japan has stopped production and restricted its use.

In Taiwan, China is also strictly prohibited from adding sodium benzoate to carbonated beverages. In 2011, a batch of Coca-Cola stock solution from Coca-Cola Shanghai Company was sent to Taiwan by mistake. Shut out.

“Sodium benzoate can only work when the pH of the food is lower than 3.6, and it is often used to protect foods containing acidic ingredients. This is the reason why it exists in most soda, vinegar, juice, salad dressing ingredient lists.” A tertiary hospital Huang Bin, the attending physician of internal medicine, said that sodium benzoate is harmful to the human body, because it will react with gastric acid to form benzoic acid, and long-term drinking will cause chronic benzene poisoning.

“From the research point of view, sodium benzoate may cause neurasthenia, and serious aplastic anemia.” Huang Bin said, not only that, but also scientific conclusions show that sorbic acid and potassium sorbate, excessive intake will also affect human metabolism. balance. “No matter how small amount of preservatives are added, it is impossible for some consumers to drink so much every day, which causes harm.”

In addition to preservatives, the abuse of food additives is also increasingly controversial. In 2020, Zhao Lin, a health education expert, made a shocking statement in the article “Food Additives: Looking Back at a Hundred Years of Development History, Harm Cannot Be Ignored”: From infants to graves, human diet and health are affected by food companies, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, etc. around industrial companies.

This is also an important reason why the beverage industry is facing a new revolutionary formula. “Children are not allowed to drink too much cola, and the various pigments, preservatives, etc. in the ingredient list are not very reassuring.” Many parents said that they and their children have already bought various foods, especially beverages. Get in the habit of looking at the ingredient list.

In essence, whether it is the parents’ warning to their children to “drink less Coke” or the rumor that “drinking Coke kills sperm”, it still reflects the psychological changes that consumers pay more attention to health needs as the times change.

Today, “rejecting preservatives” and “removing preservatives” has become the choice of many subdivided food industries in China. For example, the most common soy sauce in life – currently on the domestic supermarket shelves, you can buy domestic soy sauce without preservatives for only ten yuan. In the beverage industry, Yuanqi Forest, Nongfu Spring, Mengniu, Jinmailang, and Uni-President Industrial also announced early “de-preservative”.

However, for “Shuangle” with a history of more than 100 years and the slogan of “health and vitality”, various preservatives are still standard in beverages sold in mainland China: for example, Pepsi-Cola sugar-free formula products, Pepsi-Cola bubble Sparkling water and Mirinda have added two preservatives, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. Sodium benzoate is added to Coca-Cola’s Zero Sugar-Free Cola, Sugar-Free Sprite, and AHHA Sparkling Water.

The arrogance of the “double standard of ingredients” that is difficult to break

In fact, the century-old “Shuangle” has repeatedly been caught in food safety crises in the Chinese market, and the controversy has continued. One of the most important reasons is the “double labeling of ingredients” on domestic and foreign preservatives.

As early as 2016, “Coca-Cola” was “blacklisted” four times within six months. According to the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, 9 batches of Coca-Cola beverages were among them due to the excessive use of benzoic acid. At that time, Coca-Cola responded with “standards”, but was questioned by netizens as “double standards”.

So does Pepsi. In 2012, it was controversial because of the carcinogen containing 4-methylimidazole; in 2017, it was still detected by the media that Pepsi Cola sent for inspection in mainland China and Hong Kong, China, contained the above-mentioned carcinogens – but not in California, the United States.

The double standard has not stopped since then, but has spread to this day and has intensified. In April of this year, Fanta, owned by Coca-Cola, was once again in a vortex. A British student found that the ingredients list of the British version of Fanta orange is different from that of domestic products. The British version contains fruit juice and vegetable extracts, but not in China. Instead, additives such as sunset yellow and lemon yellow are added.

The difference between Chinese and foreign Fanta ingredients list The difference between Chinese and foreign Fanta ingredients list

In May, Yi Bao Ma questioned a sparkling water ingredient called Xiao Universe under Coca-Cola on social platforms, saying that the same product sold in Taiwan, China, does not contain preservatives, and the ingredients of the same flavor products sold in the mainland and Hong Kong contain “sodium benzoate”. “Preservatives, and other flavors even contain multiple preservatives.

Without exception, these consumers all claim that the century-old multinational giants are suspected of “double standards”. And, far from limited to the beverage industry, according to relevant statistics, since 2011, Nike, Liyou, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Mead Johnson, Abbott, Wyeth, ZARA, Menglong Ice Cream, Haagen-Dazs, Oreo , McDonald’s, KFC, Porsche and other dozens of multinational companies have been questioned the “double standard” problem.

Again, without exception, most of these multinational corporations downplayed their use of responses in line with mainland security standards, becoming a “shield” for double standards.

Is the root cause of the double standard because our standards are too low, our supervision is ineffective, and the punishment is not strict? “Taking food as an example, countries in the world have different requirements for food safety, so many multinational companies have formulated different standards in the global market.” Some marketing observers said that some industries want the same standards as developed countries in Europe and the United States, they really need to time.

But more importantly, multinational companies like Coca-Cola could have achieved the same standards in China as abroad, but they have been greatly reduced in China. It seems to be “taking advantage of the system”, but the root cause is the lack of sincerity to domestic consumers. , regardless of word-of-mouth, reputation, morality, and the nature of chasing capital and profit by all means to save costs.

For example, Menglong Ice Cream used condensed milk in Europe and reconstituted milk in China. According to Song Liang, head of the economic expert group of the China Agricultural Reclamation Dairy Alliance, the price difference between reconstituted milk and concentrated milk will reach 3,000-4,000 yuan per ton. You know, since it entered the domestic market in 1996, Menglong Ice Cream has been dubbed the title of “Noble Ice Cream”, and the annual sales in the domestic market in 2020 will be nearly 1 billion yuan.

The good performance brought about by the monopoly position increases the “confidence” of multinational companies.

Taking Coca-Cola as an example, although its Fanta and small sparkling waters have been frequently searched this year due to the “double standard” issue – but according to the second quarter financial report released at the end of July, under the impact of product disputes and the epidemic, Coca-Cola has gained more in the mainland. The good performance allowed Coca-Cola to hand over revenue of US$11.325 billion in Q2, a year-on-year increase of 12%; operating profit of US$2.341 billion and net profit of US$1.900 billion. Behind it, it is obvious that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been monopolized for decades in China’s carbonated beverage market.

“Essentially, discrimination and contempt for Chinese consumers are deeply rooted in the bone marrow, leading to multinational companies making more money in China, but treating Chinese consumers with the lowest service and lowest standards.” According to many Internet observers , To win the inner respect of multinational companies, it is difficult to rely on conscience to discover, but to rely on each of our consumers.

Similarly, every Chinese company needs to work hard to break the arrogance and prejudice of multinational giants.

It’s Time to Break Pride and Prejudice

Many industry insiders pointed out that for Chinese enterprises, breaking the “double standard” arrogance and prejudice requires not only patience and determination, but also continuous investment and innovation in supply chain and technology. , have the opportunity to be no weaker than or even lead multinational companies.

The same is true for the beverage market. Removing preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate in the formula sounds simple, but it must be ensured that the products produced by new ingredients must not only maintain the taste of cola, but also meet the current consumers. Higher health demands and the inability to deteriorate and damage will be accepted by Chinese consumers.

Relying behind, is also the leading level of craftsmanship. “For the beverage industry, the key to preservatives is that the beverage source is not contaminated by microorganisms. If the enterprise implements a thorough aseptic production process, in fact, it is not necessary to add preservatives.” An industry insider said.

At present, traditional beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola still use common bacterial production lines with a microbial prevention level not higher than Log5 on a large scale in their domestic OEM production. Preservatives must be added to beverages to inhibit microorganisms.

In contrast, domestic enterprises such as Yuanqi Forest use the fully automatic aseptic carbonic acid production line with the highest safety standard in the industry, so as to achieve the Log6 microbial control level – the so-called Log6 aseptic standard, that is, to produce 1 million bottles of beverages, which will not 1 bottle was contaminated with microorganisms.

Among them, including the disinfection of the cap and bottle body, and the sterilization process of the contents. At the same time, Log6 also includes keywords such as “high-speed, cold filling”. After various disinfections, thousands of bottles of beverages can be filled at high speed per minute at room temperature. This is not just a simple application of advanced technology, but a complete set of intelligent industrial systems.

This is the key for Yuanqi Forest, Nongfu Spring, and Mengniu to dare to shout “reject preservatives”.

The price is that the cost of a sterile production line is twice as high as the cost of an aseptic production line, and industry insiders say that it exceeds hundreds of millions of yuan. Taking Yuanqi Forest as an example, up to now, 18 aseptic carbonic acid production lines have been built in the five new factories of Yuanqi Forest, with a total investment of several billion yuan. At present, there are less than 20 aseptic carbonic acid production lines of the same scale as Yuanqi Forest in the world.

Considering that Coca-Cola also adopts the Log6 industrial system abroad (especially the United States), which means that it also has technical processes and more funds to promote aseptic carbonic acid production lines. So, why are ordinary production lines still being used in China?

The answer is still because of the pursuit of capital under the “double standard”.

The higher-standard production process, although it will reduce the potential harm to Chinese consumers, will increase the cost of multinational companies and reduce profits – which is obviously unwilling to accept for Coca-Cola. This is completely different from Tesla’s Shanghai production base, which adopts the most advanced technology. Tesla’s cars produced in Shanghai can be exported to the world, while beverages are a special market and are generally produced locally.

Consumers are clearly seeing this as well. Today, when more and more multinational giants encounter a crisis of trust due to “double standards”, more and more consumers are becoming mature, explicitly rejecting “double standard” brands such as Coca-Cola and Menglong ice cream, and Their “double label ingredients”.

From this point of view, this may be the key to whether Yuanqi Forest can lead the “new cola formula revolution” – when the “stuck neck” method of the multinational giant’s supply chain has failed, Chinese cola broke the monopoly of foreign brands, despite the obstacles and obstacles long, but not out of reach.

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