Coca-Cola Beans and Leaves (Part I)

For over 70 years, The Coca-Cola Company sold only one beverage - Coca-Cola - made with a variety of ingredients including extracts of coca leaves, kola and vanilla beans.

Within months of the 75th anniversary of the soft drink debut, The Coca-Cola Company augmented its portfolio of one beverage to include a full-line of fruit-flavored sodas, frozen citrus juice concentrates, and instant coffee and tea.

In 1960, The Coca-Cola Company acquired Minute Maid and along with it Tenco. Tenco manufactured instant coffee and tea that were sold by food stores and other distributors under their private labels.  The new division also supplied Tenco brand instant coffee for automatic vending machines.  Tenco had operations in Ajax, Canada; Hamburg, Germany; Linden, New Jersey; London, England; and San Francisco, California.

In 1964, The Coca-Cola Company acquired Duncan Coffee Company.  Consequently, Coca-Cola added Admiration, Bright & Early, Fleetwood, and Maryland Club Butter-Nut to its growing portfolio of coffee brands.

In 1975, Coca-Cola Japan launched Georgia brand ready-to-drink coffee.  Unlike its American cousins, Georgia has risen over the years to be one of the billion-dollar brands in the Coca-Cola family.  In fact, Georgia is the number one soft drink brand in Japan.

In the U.S. Coca-Cola discontinued Duncan Coffee operation and eventually sold the business.

In the late1990s, Hershel Mills Duncan IV, the Great Grandson of the founder of the original Duncan Coffee Company, acquired the brand and operations from the last owner, Procter and Gamble, and restarted the business in Texas.

Tenco was sold in 1982, which became part of Tetley then part of Tata Tea, the largest tea manufacturer in India.  Incidentally, Tata sold its 30% stake in Energy Brands dba glaceau, the maker of smartwater and vitaminwater, to The Coca-Cola Company in 2007.

In 1991, Coca-Cola and Nestle joined forces to form Coca-Cola Nestle Refreshment (CCNR) and launched Nestea brand iced tea and Nescafe brand coffee beverages the following year.  In 2001, the partnership was renewed and a new joint venture Beverage Partners Worldwide (BPW) was established.

Fifty years after the acquisition of its first coffee business, Coca-Cola acquired New York-based P. J. Bean Company, which manufactured Planet Java bottled coffee drinks in 2001.  Coca-Cola's competitor Pepsi had just begun bottling and distributing Starbuck's Frappuccino coffee drinks.  The same year, Coca-Cola also acquired Connecticut-based Mad River Traders, the maker of Mad River Tea and other juices and soft drinks.

Both Planet Java and Mad River unfortunately did not last as long as Tenco or Duncan.  Coca-Cola discontinued both brands in 2004.

In 2006, Coca-Cola introduced Coca-Cola Blak, a coffee-infused cola drink in France.  Coke Blak made its way across the Atlantic and debuted in the US and Canada a few months later.  The new fusion beverage generated a lot of buzz worldwide including an imitator in China, however Coca-Cola Blak was discontinued 2 years later.

Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated also introduced Cinnabon brand coffee beverages in cans.  Other Coca-Cola bottlers also distributed Godiva Belgian brand premium coffee beverages in glass bottles.

In early 2007, Coca-Cola and Nestle launched the controversial Enviga brand sparkling green tea beverages in tall cans.  Controversial because Coca-Cola and Nestle claimed that the drink produced negative-calorie; the idea that by drinking the beverage allowed you to burn more calories than you consume.  Eventually the two beverage giants and their joint venture BPW had to pay $650,000 to settle the lawsuit over the negative-calorie claim in 2009.

A few months later, Coca-Cola launched Gold Peak brand premium iced tea in carafe-like single-serve glass bottles.  Gold Peak made its debut at a sampling event on July 29 at the Bridgehampton Polo Club in the Hamptons, New York.

September 22, 2007, Coca-Cola opened its first Far Coast concept store in Toronto, Canada to showcase its latest premium Far Coast coffee blends.  Coca-Cola also introduced Chaqwa, a new brand of coffees and teas for convenience stores.  The Chaqwa name is a fusion of the Mandarin Chinese word for tea and the Arabic word for coffee.

In August 2007, Coca-Cola North America (CCNA) and Caribou Coffee announced the launch of a new line of premium ready-to-drink iced coffees.  This was Coca-Cola's fourth bottled coffee attempt against the Frappuccino since 2001 if you exclude Coca-Cola Blak.

Just two months later, Coca-Cola and illycaffe of Italy announced that they will form "a global joint venture focused on the premium ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee segment leveraging illy's world class expertise in the art of the espresso."

On the M&A front, Coca-Cola acquired Fuze Beverage LLC, the maker of new age teas and non-carbonated vitamin-infused beverages in February 2007.  A few months later, Coca-Cola acquired Energy Brands, which produced enhanced water beverages, including "rescue" a green tea-flavored Vitaminwater.

In February 2008, Coca-Cola took a 40% stake in Honest Tea, the maker of USDA certified organic bottled teas, with the rights to acquire the company after 3 years.

In March 2008, Coca-Cola and illycaffe finalized their global joint venture Ilko Coffee International to begin producing illy brand caffe, cappuccino and latte machiato in 150ml and 200ml cans in 10 European countries served by Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co.

In June 2008, Coca-Cola launched Full Throttle Coffee with the tagline: "Coffee. Fully Charged."  Coca-Cola's premium coffee energy drink came in three flavors: Caramel, Vanilla, and Mocha. 

However with the agreement that The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) signed with Hansen Natural Corporation in October, Coca-Cola started distributing Full Throttle's competitor, Monster Energy and Java Monster in select U.S. markets, Canada and six Western European countries.

Also in October, Coca-Cola's new subsidiary Fuze Beverage introduced a new Black & Green Tea infused with acai berry and vitamins.

In January 2009, Gold Peak added new multi-serve 59 fl.oz. carafe bottles.

In February, 200-ml and 250-ml cans of illy issimo Coffee arrived in New York City from Denmark.

In March, NESTEA introduced Red Tea Pomegranate Passion Fruit - a caffeine-free rooibos tea featuring exotic flavors, antioxidants, and 50 calories per serving.  Incidentally, Coca-Cola's Minute Maid line had already marketed a pomegranate flavored tea a year earlier.

All was quiet on the tea and coffee front for the rest of 2009 and into the new year of the Tiger in North America.

The flurry of leaves and beans in Coca-Cola's beverage experiments in the U.S. over the past decade has not yet produced another Georgia.  This does not mean that Gold Peak or Illy Issimo will not become another billion-dollar brand in the coming decade.  However, in North America, Arizona Tea and Starbucks Frappuccino are very much ahead in the ready-to-drink tea leaf and coffee bean races.  Coca-Cola may need to roast or brew up a storm for the coffee and tea consumers to take more notice.

The article also appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Coca-Cola Collectors News.